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Health literacy

Health Literacy Leads to Longer Life

Thursday, December 20, 2007 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: health literacy, longevity, health news


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(NewsTarget) Higher health literacy is directly correlated with a longer life, according to a new study published in Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers gathered health and demographic information via interviews with 3,260 Medicare patients over the age of 64, and also gave them tests to determine how well they were able to read and understand health information. After a follow-up period of approximately 5.7 years, the researchers consulted the National Death Index to determine which of the participants had died.

The health literacy test involved reading two passages and solving four mathematic problems; participants received a score from zero to 100. Those with scores of 55 or lower were defined as having inadequate health literacy; those with scores of 56 to 66 were defined as having marginal health literacy; and those with scores above 66 percent were defined as having adequate health literacy.

The researchers found that participants with inadequate health literacy were significantly more likely to die during the follow-up period than participants with adequate health literacy. This correlation held true even after demographics, socioeconomic status and participants' health behaviors at the beginning of the study were adjusted for. The researchers further found that formal education, as measured by years of schooling, only had a very weak correlation with mortality risk. The correlation between inadequate health literacy and death was strongest for cardiovascular disease.

Among the 800 participants who died during the follow-up period were more than 39 percent of the original participants with inadequate health literacy, nearly 29 percent of the original participants with marginal health literacy and approximately 19 percent of the original participants with adequate health literacy.

The researchers speculated that people with poor health literacy may be more likely to die not because they are more likely to become sick, but because they have a harder time managing illness when it arises.

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