Associations of health literacy with socioeconomic position, health risk behavior, and health status: a large national population-based survey among Danish adults

Autorinnen/Autoren: Svendsen MT, Kronborg Bak C, Sørensen K, Pelikan J, Riddersholm SJ, Kuhr Skals R, Nørmark Mortensen R, Terkildsen Maindal H, Bøggild H, Nielsen G, Torp-Pedersen C

Erscheinungsjahr: 2020

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Background: Health literacy concerns the ability of citizens to meet the complex demands of health in modern society. Data on the distribution of health literacy in general populations and how health literacy impacts health behavior and general health remains scarce. The present study aims to investigate the prevalence of health literacy levels and associations of health literacy with socioeconomic position, health risk behavior, and health status at a population level.

Methods: A nationwide cross-sectional survey linked to administrative registry data was applied to a randomly selected sample of 15,728 Danish individuals aged ≥25 years. By the short form HLS-EU-Q16 health literacy was measured for the domains of healthcare, disease prevention, and health promotion. Adjusted multinomial logistic regression analyses were used to estimate associations of health literacy with demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, health risk behavior (physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption, body weight), and health status (sickness benefits, self-assessed health).

Results: Overall, 9007 (57.3%) individuals responded to the survey. Nearly 4 in 10 respondents faced difficulties in accessing, understanding, appraising, and applying health information. Notably, 8.18% presented with inadequate health literacy and 30.94% with problematic health literacy. Adjusted for potential confounders, regression analyses showed that males, younger individuals, immigrants, individuals with basic education or income below the national average, and individuals receiving social benefits had substantially higher odds of inadequate health literacy. Among health behavior factors (smoking, high alcohol consumption, and inactivity), only physical behavior [sedentary: OR: 2.31 (95% CI: 1.81; 2.95)] was associated with inadequate health literacy in the adjusted models. The long-term health risk indicator body-weight showed that individuals with obesity [OR: 1.78 (95% CI: 1.39; 2.28)] had significantly higher odds of lower health literacy scores. Poor self-assessed health [OR: 4.03 (95% CI: 3.26; 5.00)] and payments of sickness absence compensation benefits [OR: 1.74 (95% CI: 1.35; 2.23)] were associated with lower health literacy scores.

Conclusions: Despite a relatively highly educated population, the prevalence of inadequate health literacy is high. Inadequate health literacy is strongly associated with a low socioeconomic position, poor health status, inactivity, and overweight, but to a lesser extent with health behavior factors such as smoking and high alcohol consumption.

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