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An inter-sectoral approach for improving health literacy for Canadians: A discussion paper

 “To be health literate is to be able to access and understand the information required to manage one’s health on a day-to-day basis” (p. 3). According to the Canadian Council on Learning, an estimated 60% of Canadian adults (ages 16 and older) and 88% of seniors (age 65 and older) have limited health literacy. As the population ages and the incidence of chronic disease increases, the financial impact of these statistics is likely to grow. In addition, low health literacy is more common among some population groups: older adults, Aboriginal peoples, recent immigrants, people with lower levels of education and/or low English or French proficiency, and people on social assistance. Improving health literacy for those with the worst health outcomes reduces health inequities.

Health literacy is about the abilities of individuals and systems.  The authors challenge service providers of all kinds to offer people accessible, useful, plain-language health information, and to encourage people to be proactive and ask for what they need. This discussion paper presents a comprehensive framework for improving health literacy in Canada, with action recommendations for five key partners—governments, the health sector, the education sector, workplaces and businesses, and community organizations—at the local, provincial/territorial, and national levels. The three components of the framework are 1) develop knowledge about effective ways to improve health literacy, 2) raise awareness and build  the capacity of partners at all levels to support health literacy, and 3) build the infrastructure and partnerships needed to implement the action recommendations.

Use this resource to:

  • Facilitate conversations, and encourage cross-sectoral health literacy initiatives, among practitioners, researchers and policy makers
  • Identify priorities for improving health literacy in Canada
  • Discuss the applicability of the this framework to your context
  • Contribute to research and practice in the area of health literacy by sending your comments and ideas to Dr. Irving Rootman

Public Health Association of British Columbia. (2012). An inter-sectoral approach for improving health literacy for Canadians: A discussion paper. Victoria, BC: Author. Retrieved from

Tags: Health literacy, Intersectoral action, Public Health Association, Report/document

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