Health literacy is concerned with the capacities of people to meet the complex demands of health in a modern society. Health literate means placing one's own health and that of one's family and community into context, understanding influencing factors, and knowing how to address them. Recent European research shows that almost half of the adult population in the EU faces problems in health literacy. Health literacy is linked to literacy and entails people’s knowledge, motivation and competences to access, understand, appraise, and apply health information in order to make judgments and take decisions in everyday life concerning healthcare, disease prevention and health promotion to maintain or improve quality of life during the life course.
There is a growing body of research linking poor health literacy, which is common among racial and ethnic minorities, elderly persons, and patients with chronic conditions, to increased use of services, poor adherence to medical instruction, poorer health status and higher mortality. As such, inadequate health literacy may contribute to the disproportionate burden of diabetes-related problems among disadvantaged populations. Patients with limited health literacy are also less likely to access and navigate internet-based patient information, which means that those most at risk for poor diabetes outcomes will fall further behind if health systems increasingly rely on internet-based services.
The European Health Literacy project (HLS-EU) generated the first time data on health literacy in a number of EU Member States. The project measured how people acces, understand, appraise and apply information to make decisions in terms of health, disease prevention and health promotion. Somewhat more than every tenth (12.4%) person was found to have inadequate general health literacy and more than every third (35.2 %) has problematic general health literacy. Thus almost one in two, on average 47%, has risk of limited health literacy across the countries that were part of the research. Level vary between the countries. In certain subgroups of the populations there are higher risks, such as mong elderly, among people with low levels of education, among people with low socio-economic status and among people considering having a bad health. Detailed data can be found in the Comparative Report on Health Literacy in eight EU Member States.
Yet although low health literacy has been associated with poor self-care in various other chronic illnesses, research on its moderating role in self-management education of persons with diabetes is scarce and efforts to develop education materials that are adapted to the level of health literacy of the users are in their infancy. A better understanding of the role of health literacy in moderating the outcomes of self-management education would provide a means to improve diabetes care in both clinical and economic terms. It would also address the lack of research on the cost effectiveness of interventions aimed at improving health literacy. The role of health literacy in diabetes self-management is an important element in the Diabetes Literacy project