Impact of health literacy on socioeconomic and racial differences in health in an elderly population
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BACKGROUND: Differences in health literacy levels by race and education are widely hypothesized to contribute to health disparities, but there is little direct evidence.
OBJECTIVE: To examine the extent to which low health literacy exacerbates differences between racial and socioeconomic groups in terms of health status and receipt of vaccinations.
DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study.
PARTICIPANTS (OR PATIENTS OR SUBJECTS): Three thousand two hundred and sixty noninstitutionalized elderly persons enrolling in a Medicare managed care plan in 1997 in Cleveland, OH; Houston, TX: South Florida; and Tampa, FL.
MEASUREMENTS: Dependent variables were physical health SF-12 score, mental health SF-12 score, self-reported health status, receipt of influenza vaccine, and receipt of pneumococcal vaccine. Independent variables included health literacy, educational attainment, race, income, age, sex, chronic health conditions, and smoking status.
RESULTS: After adjusting for demographic and health-related variables, individuals without a high school education had worse physical and mental health and worse self-reported health status than those with a high school degree. Accounting for health literacy reduced these differences by 22% to 41%. Black individuals had worse self-reported health status and lower influenza and pneumococcal vaccination rates. Accounting for health literacy reduced the observed difference in self-reported health by 25% but did not affect differences in vaccination rates.
CONCLUSIONS: We found that health literacy explained a small to moderate fraction of the differences in health status and, to a lesser degree, receipt of vaccinations that would normally be attributed to educational attainment and/or race if literacy was not considered.
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- Impact of health literacy on socioeconomic and racial differences in health in an elderly population
Journal of General Internal Medicine
Volume 21, Issue 8 , pp 857-861
- Cover Date
- Print ISSN
- Online ISSN
- Additional Links
- educational status
- health literacy
- health status
- minority groups
- Industry Sectors
- Author Affiliations
- 1. Department of Health Policy and Management, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, 1518 Clifton Road NE, 30322, Atlanta, GA
- 2. Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA
- 3. Emory Center on Health Outcomes and Quality, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA