Journal of Public Health Policy

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 71–93

Plain Language: A Strategic Response to the Health Literacy Challenge


DOI: 10.1057/palgrave.jphp.3200102

Cite this article as:
Stableford, S. & Mettger, W. J Public Health Pol (2007) 28: 71. doi:10.1057/palgrave.jphp.3200102


Low health literacy is a major challenge confronting American and international health organizations. Research in the past decade has documented the prevalence of limited literacy and limited health literacy skills among adults worldwide. This creates a major policy challenge: how to create text-based health information – a common method of health communication – that is accessible to the public. Plain language is a logical, flexible response. While touted by American, Canadian, and European health policy makers, adoption and promotion of plain language standards and skills in health-focused organizations have lagged. Most text-based health information continues to be too hard for most adults to read. Barriers to more rapid diffusion of plain language are reflected in a set of myths perpetuated by critics. These myths are identified and refuted. While plain language is only one of many broad-based solutions needed to address low health literacy, the benefits to everyone demand increased use by health organizations.


literacyhealth literacylow health literacyhealth communicationplain languagereading skills

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.AHEC Health Literacy Center, University of New EnglandBiddefordUSA