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Poorer Health Literacy Linked to Increased Mortality

About one-third of older adults in England have medium or low functional health literacy

FRIDAY, March 16 (HealthDay News) -- A considerable proportion of older adults in England have medium or low health literacy, which is associated with increased mortality, according to a study published online March 15 in BMJ.

To investigate the correlation between functional health literacy and mortality among older adults, Sophie Bostock and Andrew Steptoe, D.Phil., from University College London, conducted a population-based cohort study involving 7,857 adults aged 52 years or older. Health literacy was classified as high, medium, or low, based on a four-item test.

The researchers found that 67.2, 20.3, and 12.5 percent of participants had high, medium, or low health literacy, respectively. During a mean follow-up of 5.3 years, 621 deaths occurred, including 321 (6.1 percent), 143 (9.0 percent), and 157 (16.0 percent) in the high, medium, and low health literacy categories, respectively. Compared with participants with high health literacy, the hazard ratio for all-cause mortality for participants with low or medium health literacy was 1.40 and 1.15, respectively, after adjusting for confounding variables. The hazard ratio for low health literacy was reduced to 1.26 following further adjustment for cognitive ability.

"This study suggests that a third of older adults in England have difficulties reading and understanding basic health-related written information. Poorer understanding is associated with higher mortality," the authors write.

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