Health literacy in the UK

18th August 2021 by Alex Teckkam

Poor health literacy is a key challenge both at home and abroad. The issue is complex and can seriously impact a person’s ability to look after themselves, care for those around them and access the health services they need.

At medDigital we are focused on overcoming healthcare challenges. We want to help deliver a coordinated approach between non-government organisations (NGOs), pharma, government and the wider life sciences industry to provide clear and understandable health information to the people who need it.

Improving health literacy benefits us all. We want to help people feel confident in accessing the right health services, know when to seek the help they need and be empowered to care for themselves and for those around them.

About health literacy

Health literacy is defined by the World Health Organisation as ‘the personal characteristics and social resources needed for individuals and communities to access, understand, appraise and use information and services to make decisions about health’

A complex definition for a complex issue. A person’s health literacy is affected by a variety of factors from education and access to good quality information to community influences and religious beliefs,

Good health literacy helps people to stay healthy. It means that a person is more likely to feel confident in accessing healthcare services, such as knowing when to go to A&E or the pharmacy. It also means they are more empowered to look after themselves and others, how to help stay well and when to seek help.

Adapted from: Paasche-Orlow M, Wolf M. The Causal Pathways Linking Health Literacy to Health Outcomes. Am J Health Behav. 2007;31 Suppl 1:S19-26. doi:10.5993/AJHB.31.s1.4

Poor health literacy leads to poorer health outcomes

Poor health literacy is linked with unhealthy lifestyle factors such as poor diet, smoking and low physical activity as well as increased risk of dying prematurely. (PHE, 2015) A report by Public Health England (PHE) found that people with poor health literacy are also more likely to use emergency services and have trouble managing a long-term condition. (PHE, 2015) Incidence of poor health literacy in the UK is high. Improvement is needed across sectors to make sure that people are given the tools they need to look after themselves effectively.


 working age adults find UK health information too complex.


 working age adults find UK health information too complex if the information contains numeracy. (PHE, 2015)

What we are doing

No one sector or industry is responsible for the issue of poor health literacy in the UK. The level of complexity also means that no one sector can solve it. We need to improve collaboration and knowledge sharing across industries to help ensure that people are getting the support and information they need to look after their health.

At medDigital we want to bring people together to share best practice on creating clear, concise and accessible information for your public audience.

  • We will provide access to expert content and resources to keep you up to date with the latest research and insights on health literacy.
  • We will engage with key leaders in the field to share their knowledge and experience.
  • We will organise cross-sector knowledge sharing events and workshops to encourage discussion and collaboration.

1. Public Health England. Improving health literacy to reduce health inequalities. 2015. Available from: [Accessed July 2020]