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01.12.2015 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2015 Open Access

BMC Public Health 1/2015

Distribution of health literacy strengths and weaknesses across socio-demographic groups: a cross-sectional survey using the Health Literacy Questionnaire (HLQ)

BMC Public Health > Ausgabe 1/2015
Alison Beauchamp, Rachelle Buchbinder, Sarity Dodson, Roy W. Batterham, Gerald R. Elsworth, Crystal McPhee, Louise Sparkes, Melanie Hawkins, Richard H. Osborne
Wichtige Hinweise

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

AB led the data collection, statistical analysis and writing of all drafts. The overall study design was devised by RWB, RHO, RB and GE, and operationalized by AB, SD, RWB and RHO. RHO provided ongoing guidance, contributed extensively to initial drafts, the analysis strategy, and interpretation of results. RWB and RB provided ongoing guidance and all authors contributed to the second and subsequent drafts including interpretation of the results. AB, SD, and RHO were active in recruitment, selection and orientation of sites, and the provision of training to staff collecting data. AB, MH and CM provided support for data collection. LS contributed to the initial draft, including data analysis and interpretation. All authors approved the final draft.



Recent advances in the measurement of health literacy allow description of a broad range of personal and social dimensions of the concept. Identifying differences in patterns of health literacy between population sub-groups will increase understanding of how health literacy contributes to health inequities and inform intervention development. The aim of this study was to use a multi-dimensional measurement tool to describe the health literacy of adults in urban and rural Victoria, Australia.


Data were collected from clients (n = 813) of 8 health and community care organisations, using the Health Literacy Questionnaire (HLQ). Demographic and health service data were also collected. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics. Effect sizes (ES) for standardised differences in means were used to describe the magnitude of difference between demographic sub-groups.


Mean age of respondents was 72.1 (range 19–99) years. Females comprised 63 % of the sample, 48 % had not completed secondary education, and 96 % reported at least one existing health condition. Small to large ES were seen for mean differences in HLQ scales between most demographic groups. Compared with participants who spoke English at home, those not speaking English at home had much lower scores for most HLQ scales including the scales ‘Understanding health information well enough to know what to do’ (ES −1.09 [95 % confidence interval (CI) -1.33 to −0.84]), ‘Ability to actively engage with healthcare providers’ (ES −1.00 [95 % CI −1.24, −0.75]), and ‘Navigating the healthcare system’ (ES −0.72 [95 % CI −0.97, −0.48]). Similar patterns and ES were seen for participants born overseas compared with those born in Australia. Smaller ES were seen for sex, age group, private health insurance status, number of chronic conditions, and living alone.


This study has revealed some large health literacy differences across nine domains of health literacy in adults using health services in Victoria. These findings provide insights into the relationship between health literacy and socioeconomic position in vulnerable groups and, given the focus of the HLQ, provide guidance for the development of equitable interventions.
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