Addressing the Health Literacy Needs of Adult Education Students

The purpose of this practitioner's guide is to inform practitioners about the current descriptions of health literacy and the relevance of this topic to adult education and family literacy practices.

Angela Mooney
Esther Prins
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy, College of Education, The Pennsylvania State University
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

The purpose of this practitioner's guide is to inform practitioners about the current descriptions of health literacy and the relevance of this topic to adult education and family literacy practices. The adult education and family literacy educators play a key role in teaching and enhancing health literacy in the classroom.

What the experts say

"Addressing the Health Literacy Needs of Adult Education Students" by Angela Mooney and Esther Prins is a wonderful introduction to health literacy for adult education educators. Many important citations are provided for further reading, as well. This could be used by program administrators to learn why health literacy matters to their students, and by teachers to give them some ideas on how to incorporate health literacy into their instructional plans. 

The most useful resource features in the article include: a description of the demographic factors that are associated with low health literacy, and how that, in turn, contributes to health disparities; general ideas and examples of how to teach health information; and, a list of general literacy skills that could help students’ to take control of and improve their health. However, it is important to make one note concerning the scope of the field described -which is that health literacy is an interaction between individuals and the broader demands of the system. This system includes the health system but is not limited to it, but rather demands are placed on individuals seeking health care, health information, health prevention, etc. at the grocery store, in taking public transportation to health visits, at their children’s schools, and so on. Likewise, system demands placed on individuals that affect health come from these places as well -in addition to the health system. The provider patient interaction is essential and the skills and demands in that interaction are important but health literacy is part of a wider and more interactive space. Adult education has an important role to play in increasing health literacy skills of individuals and decreasing the health literacy demand of larger institutional systems. This resource provides a wonderful foundation for learning about the many tools available for working with adult education students both in and out of the classroom.

The section entitled Addressing Health Literacy in AEFL (page 4) is the most useful because it is action-oriented (the first three pages are important and necessary for providing a health literacy background but the action sections are most relevant for adult educators). This section includes a list of which specific general literacy skills can help students to take control of their health needs, and also describes some ways to teach health information and skills needed to confidently access health services. It is not an in-depth guide to integrating health literacy into an adult education program, but it is a first step in explaining why it's important to do this, and how you can get started. The resource is highly recommended to begin discussions among and with colleagues and using it again to plan new curricula and lessons.

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