Better Grasp of Health Info May Boost Life Span

But a quarter of older adults have 'poor health literacy,' U.S. study finds

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MONDAY, July 23 (HealthDay News)-- Being better able to read and understand health-related information might help you live longer, a new study finds.

"Inadequate health literacy is associated with less knowledge of chronic disease and worse self-management skills for patients with hypertension, diabetes mellitus, asthma and heart failure," concluded a team from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago.

For a study appearing in the July 23 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, the researchers interviewed 3,260 Medicare patients age 65 and older, asking them questions about demographics and health. The participants also took a test of health literacy.

The health literacy test involved two reading passages and four mathematical items. Scores on the test ranged from zero to 100. Participants with scores of 0-55, 56-66, and 67 and higher were classified as having inadequate, marginal, and adequate health literacy, respectively.

Among the participants, 2,094 (64 percent) had adequate health literacy, 366 (11 percent) had marginal health literacy, and 800 (25 percent) had inadequate health literacy.

The researchers then used the National Death Index to identify which participants died during an average follow-up of about 5.7 years.

A total of 800 participants died during the study's follow-up, including more than 39 percent of those with inadequate health literacy, almost 29 percent with marginal health literacy and about 19 percent with adequate health literacy.

The participants with inadequate health literacy had a significantly higher risk of dying than those with adequate health literacy, even after the researchers accounted for demographics, socioeconomic status and health behaviors at the beginning of the study. The level of health literacy was most strongly associated with the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

The authors concluded that people who have poor health literacy may have a more difficult time managing their illnesses. Years of school completed were only weakly associated with the risk of dying during the study period, the researchers said.

More information

The National Network of Libraries of Medicine has more about health literacy.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, July 23, 2007


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