International Journal of Public Health

, Volume 59, Issue 6, pp 967–974

When to see a doctor for common health problems: distribution patterns of functional health literacy across migrant populations in Switzerland

Orginal Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00038-014-0583-5

Cite this article as:
Ackermann Rau, S., Sakarya, S. & Abel, T. Int J Public Health (2014) 59: 967. doi:10.1007/s00038-014-0583-5



Knowing when to seek professional help for health problems is considered an important aspect of health literacy. However, little is known about the distribution of help-seeking knowledge in the general population or specific subpopulations.


We analysed data from the “Health Monitoring of the Swiss Migrant Population 2010” and used a short survey tool to study the distribution of help-seeking knowledge. We sampled members of four migrant groups (from Portugal, Turkey, Serbia and Kosovo; n = 2,614). Our tool contained 12 items that addressed common physical and psychological health problems. A total sum score measured help-seeking knowledge. Two sub-scores analysed knowledge related to potential overuse (minor symptoms) or potential underuse (major symptoms). We applied linear regression to show variations in help-seeking knowledge by age, sex, region of origin and length of stay.


Controlling for self-rated health, we found that region of origin, higher education, female gender and younger age were significantly associated with higher knowledge scores.


We present empirical evidence of unequal distribution of help-seeking knowledge across four migrant populations in Switzerland. Our findings contribute to current conceptual developments in health literacy, and provide starting points for future research.


Health literacy Help-seeking knowledge Migrants’ health Switzerland 

Copyright information

© Swiss School of Public Health 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sabine Ackermann Rau
    • 1
  • Sibel Sakarya
    • 2
  • Thomas Abel
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Social and Preventive MedicineUniversity BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.School of Medicine, Department of Public HealthMarmara UniversityIstanbulTurkey

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