The Emergence of Health Literacy as a Public Policy Priority: From Research to Consensus to Action

From Research to Consensus to Action 

Anthony Tassi
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Office of the Mayor, New York City
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

This article gives a very brief overview of the consensus reached so far from the research on literacy and health, then goes on to describe the adult education communities’ strengths in pedagogy, environment and access to “a broad cohort of adults with significant health problems and poor access to services.” It explains how this makes adult education programs well-suited to help the public health system to improve the public’s health literacy. Although written in 2004, the author’s concept of health literacy matches well with the current understanding, and his predictions for what future research may show have proven to be on target. The article gives a well-rounded rationale for the value of collaboration between the fields of health care and adult education, and particularly highlights the value of adult educators’ expertise within this collaboration.

Benefits and Uses

This article is a valuable resource for adult educators to build collaborations with health care providers and public health agencies to enhance health literacy in the general population. It could also serve as a useful tool to help rationalize adult education programs’ bids to secure these partnerships, and possibly co-funding opportunities as well. In essence, the article highlights the importance of forging collaborations between adult educators and health professionals. Adult educators hold insight into breaking down complex tasks and aggressive learning objectives into manageable and realistic learning goals. In addition, adult educators are ambassadors and guides for foreign born and native born adult learners and their families. Thus, the adult educator can build bridges between vulnerable people who may hold high levels of mistrust in the formal system, and the health care system meant to serve those people.

Useful Features:

  1. Concise overview of health literacy,
  2. Foresight into the importance of health literacy,
  3. Compelling rationale for collaborative efforts to address health literacy.

Please note that, while this was written in 2004 and uses the results of the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey, it predicts accurately the extrapolation of the results to encompass health literacy as well as literacy, which was indeed shown when the results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) came out. (The NAAL report came out after this article was written. You can find it at:

This article is part of a compendium of 8 documents, all of which draw data from a collection of well-known authors’ commentary and research results. The compendium is the Fall 2004 issue of Literacy Harvest. ( ) Although the compendium and this article were published in 2004, by this year (2011) these cited folks have become “gurus” in the field of health literacy. Some of the names could clearly be called “founders in health literacy.” This issue of Literacy Harvest, themed on Health Literacy, is a “must have” for those in adult education and/or health services, regardless of their expertise in health literacy.

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