The University of Southampton
University of Southampton Institutional Repository

The evolving concept of health literacy

Nutbeam, Donald (2008) The evolving concept of health literacy Social Science & Medicine, 67, (12), pp. 2072-2078. (doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.09.050). (PMID:18952344).

Record type: Article


The relationship between poor literacy skills and health status is now well recognized and better understood. Interest in this relationship has led to the emergence of the concept of health literacy. The concept has emerged from two different roots – in clinical care and in public health. This paper describes the two distinctive concepts that reflect health literacy, respectively, as a clinical “risk”, or a personal “asset”. In the former case a strong science is developing to support screening for poor literacy skills in clinical care and this is leading to a range of changes to clinical practice and organization. The conceptualization of health literacy as an asset has its roots in educational research into literacy, concepts of adult learning, and health promotion. The science to support this conceptualization is less well developed and is focused on the development of skills and capacities intended to enable people to exert greater control over their health and the factors that shape health.

The paper concludes that both conceptualizations are important and are helping to stimulate a more sophisticated understanding of the process of health communication in both clinical and community settings, as well as highlighting factors impacting on its effectiveness. These include more personal forms of communication and community based educational outreach. It recommends improved interaction between researchers working within the two health literacy perspectives, and further research on the measurement of health literacy. The paper also emphasizes the importance of more general strategies to promote literacy, numeracy and language skills in populations.

Full text not available from this repository.

More information

e-pub ahead of print date: 25 October 2008
Published date: December 2008
Keywords: health literacy, health education, patient education, risk
Organisations: Vice Chancellor Administration


Local EPrints ID: 154671
ISSN: 0277-9536
PURE UUID: e4d1d6ea-d6ce-4293-aa22-88f0ab44c1e2

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 26 May 2010 08:42
Last modified: 18 Jul 2017 12:46

Export record



Author: Donald Nutbeam

University divisions

Download statistics

Downloads from ePrints over the past year. Other digital versions may also be available to download e.g. from the publisher's website.

View more statistics

Atom RSS 1.0 RSS 2.0

Contact ePrints Soton:

ePrints Soton supports OAI 2.0 with a base URL of

This repository has been built using EPrints software, developed at the University of Southampton, but available to everyone to use.

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive cookies on the University of Southampton website.