People with higher levels of health literacy are more likely to adopt healthier behaviors and be able to receive and act on health information and services, including universal health coverage. In this way, health literacy enables individuals to protect themselves, their family and their community from various shocks (e.g., poor health, extreme weather events, market volatility) which increase the risk of impoverishment due to, for example, inability to maintain working or caring roles, and/or catastrophic out-of-pocket health expenditures.
People with higher levels of health literacy are far more able to understand available nutrition information and to be empowered to make healthier choices, which can combat both under-and over nutrition, and help end all forms of malnutrition. Benefits can be achieved across the life course and intergenerationally.
Where adolescent girls have access to sexual and reproductive health information, often through peer education, they can better protect themselves from HIV, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. It keeps them in school and counters gender gaps in education. Where students have the requisite information to adopt healthier diets and increase physical activity, their attentiveness, cognitive function and attainment can all improve.
Decent work and economic growth
Health promotion includes concerted efforts to elevate levels of health literacy amongst workers, including messaging on how various work environments can impact on health (e.g. asbestos, agro-industry or extraction sectors). These efforts have potential to empower workers to demand better, safer working conditions.
Industry, innovation and infrastructure
Access to information, communications technology (including mobile health technologies), and the internet are all central to health literacy efforts, and thus improved health literacy will advance these targets. Improvements in these areas will advance health literacy in turn.
Low and middle-income countries, and poor people in all countries, are disproportionately exposed to health-harming messaging, often as a result of targeted industry marketing of products such as tobacco, alcohol and sugar-sweetened foods and beverages. Investments in raising health literacy in poorer populations can counter this pressure to prevent widening inequities within and between countries.
Peace, justice and strong institutions
Those with higher levels of health literacy are empowered to hold their governments accountable, whether for access to essential medicines, universal health coverage, removing environmental air pollutants or tearing down discriminatory laws and practices. Nowhere has this been demonstrated more than in the AIDS response, where improved health literacy has led people to know their rights while demanding equal access to treatment and preventive services.