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U.S government and healthcare providers expensive hospital admissions and visits both need to make a more concerted effort [3]. Increasingly complex health-related to directly address the dire consequences information and decisions are reflected and human rights violations of limited in health materials and information that health literacy and bring forth the issues are presented at a reading level that is too of this silent epidemic. high for many readers. NAAL reported The relationship between limited that everyday health promotion and dishealth literacy and poor health outcomes ease prevention activities and materials in the United States is well recorded. required a “proficient” health literacy According to the level, of which only 2003 National As12% of respondents An estimated ninety sessment of Adult possessed through a Literacy (NAAL), million Americans have self-reported survey limited health literacy of 19,000 adults [1]. poor health literacy affects 9 out of 10 EnThose of the “below glish-speaking adults basic” health literacy in the United States and their ability to use level are of particular concern, as they and navigate health information that they cannot sufficiently read a chart or simple encounter on an everyday basis in health- instructions, and are 42% more likely to care facilities, media, and communities [1]. report poor health and 28% more likely An estimated ninety million Americans to lack health insurance than adults with have poor health literacy; people of older “proficient” health literacy levels [1]. age, lower socioeconomic status, education Additionally, the psychological toll that levels, and English proficiency are more affects those with limited health literasusceptible to lower health literacy levels cy is evident in self-reported feelings of [3]. The consequences of poor health lit- shame and “[hiding] their struggle with eracy affect multiple levels of society in reading or vocabulary” [1]. Therefore, making informed decisions about their in many cases, patients’ limited health healthcare, and contribute to increasing literacy goes unnoticed by healthcare gaps in health disparities and poorer health providers, contributing to the ‘silence’ outcomes, resulting in higher mortality of this sweeping epidemic. rates. Low levels of health literacy imply The widespread failure to ensure that healthcare providers and systems are health literacy in the United States is a failing to provide effective services and clear example of significant human rights resources to benefit their patients, despite violations outlined in several internationthe fact that individuals not only with low al treaties and covenants. For example, socioeconomic resources but at all income Article 12 of the International Covenant levels are facing higher costs across the on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights board for health services . Additionally, (ICESCR) recognizes the “right of everyone one study estimates that low health literacy to the enjoyment of the highest attainannually accumulates between $106 billion able standard of physical and mental to $236 billion in costs for the U.S. govern- health” [4]. Similarly, Article 25 of the ment. Specifically, poor understandings UDHR states, “Everyone has the right of health conditions, systems, and lack to a standard of living adequate for the of effective communication result in low health and well-being of himself and of his rates of treatment and medication com- family, including food, clothing, housing pliance [3]. Another main consequence and medical care and necessary social is lack of knowledge and lowered use of services” [5]. The human right to health preventative services and management of and healthcare is of utmost importance chronic diseases, resulting in unnecessary, in the United States; the US has signed © 2016, The Triple Helix, Inc. All rights reserved.



Science in Society Review - Spring 2016  
Science in Society Review - Spring 2016