Skip to main content
Rural Health Information Hub

Need for Improving Health Literacy in Rural Areas

The first national assessment of adult health literacy — the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) — found that approximately one-third or more experience challenges with reading and that only 10% of Americans are able to understand health information. Certain situations and stressful life events, such as experiencing a trauma or a new illness, can further impact health literacy and comprehension — particularly among those individuals whose health literacy levels are more limited.

One study suggested that health literacy scores in rural areas may be attributed to known confounders such as age, sex, race or ethnicity, education, and income, given that rural residents described by these demographic characteristics tend to have lower health literacy levels. Rural communities are more likely to experience several social determinants of health that impact health literacy and contribute to lower educational attainment and increased rates of poverty.

The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy engages organizations, professionals, policymakers, communities, individuals, and families toward achieving seven goals to improve health literacy. Goals outlined in the plan include:

  1. Create and circulate health information that is precise, accessible, and actionable
  2. Promote healthcare system improvements for accessing health information to aid in decision-making
  3. Include evidence-based health information and trainings in childcare and education through the university level
  4. Support and expand community efforts to deliver adult and English-language education and culturally and linguistically appropriate services in the community
  5. Build partnerships
  6. Conduct and implement research and evaluate interventions to improve health literacy
  7. Disseminate health literacy practices and interventions

For more information about the need for addressing health literacy and other social determinants of health that impact health literacy in rural areas, see the Social Determinants of Health in Rural Communities Toolkit.