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01.12.2015 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2015 Open Access

BMC Public Health 1/2015

Health literacy in an urban elderly East-German population – results from the population-based CARLA study

BMC Public Health > Ausgabe 1/2015
Daniel Tiller, Beatrice Herzog, Alexander Kluttig, Johannes Haerting
Wichtige Hinweise

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

DT wrote the manuscript, performed the statistical analyses, helped coordinate the study, and helped designing the interview. AK coordinated the study, helped draft the manuscript, and approved the final manuscript. BH designed the interview, helped draft the manuscript, and approved the final manuscript. JH conceived the study, helped draft the manuscript, and approved the final manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.



Health literacy (HL) has gained increasing attention in public health research. However, until now research was mainly focused on clinical settings rather than on the general population. Due its relation to social determinants and health outcomes, HL is of special interest in epidemiological studies. The aim of the present study was therefore to describe HL among an elderly general high-risk population, to analyze the potential contributing factors of HL, and to analyze the impact of HL on health-related outcomes.


We used data from the CARLA Study, which is a prospective population-based cohort study of the elderly general population of the city of Halle (Saale) in Eastern Germany. The short version of the HLS-EU Questionnaire (HLS-EU-Q16) was administered with 1,107 subjects aged between 55 and 91 year old. A HL score ranging from 0 to 50 points was computed and classified according to the recommendation of the HLS-EU project. Socio-economic as well as health-related variables were determined during the standardized interview and clinical examination. We calculated linear as well as logistic regression models in order to analyze the association between HL and health-related outcomes as well as potential influencing factors of HL.


Overall, the HL score was 36.9 (SD 6.9). Among all subjects, 4 % showed inadequate HL, 23 % problematic HL, 50 % sufficient HL, and 23 % excellent HL. HL was positively associated with educational level, net household income, and self-perceived social position. Further, we found an increase of HL with age (β = 0.10; 95 % CL 0.05; 0.15) and a lower HL score among women compared with men (Diff = -1.4; 95 % CL −2.2; −0.6). An inverse association was observed between HL and diabetes among both sexes (OR 0.93; 95 % CL 0.93; 0.98), between HL and myocardial infarction among women, and between HL and stroke among men.


In this elderly general Eastern German population, we found higher HL score values compared with previous studies using the same questionnaire. HL was associated with socio-economic status. Furthermore, this cross-sectional study could show associations between HL and different health-related outcomes even after adjustment for educational level. However, further research is needed in order to evaluate the impact of HL on health-related outcomes using longitudinal data derived from the general population.
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