Australians feel positive about their health literacy


New data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that most Australians assess their health literacy as being positive.

The World Health Organization defines health literacy as the ability of individuals to gain access to, understand and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health broadly.

The National Health Survey: Health Literacy, 2018, shows that one-third of Australians (33 per cent) found it always easy to discuss health concerns and actively engage with their healthcare providers; 56 per cent found this usually easy; while 12 per cent found it difficult.

ABS Director of Health, Louise Gates said that the Health Literacy Survey provides information which summarises how Australians find, understand and use health information, and how they interact with doctors and other healthcare providers.

“The survey was developed by a team in Victoria led by Professor Richard Osborne. It is the first time that comprehensive national data in this area has been published anywhere in the world,” Ms Gates said.

The survey assesses a broad range of health literacy characteristics, and can be used to improve health services.

“Overall, 25 per cent of people strongly agreed that they felt socially supported in managing their health. However, people with three or more long-term health conditions were less likely to strongly agree (17 per cent) compared with people who didn’t report a long-term health condition (29 per cent)” Ms Gates said.

“In addition, although just over a quarter (26 per cent) of people overall found it always easy to navigate the healthcare system, this was lower for people who reported very high levels of psychological distress (17 per cent) compared with people who reported low psychological distress levels (31 per cent).”

The data were collected in the Health Literacy Survey 2018, which was a component of the larger National Health Survey 2017-18. Further details are in National Health Survey: Health Literacy, 2018 (cat. no. 4364.0.55.014) from the ABS website

Media notes

  • When reporting ABS data, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (or ABS) must be attributed as the source.
  • For media requests and interviews, contact the ABS Media Team on or 1300 175 070 (8.30am - 5pm Mon-Fri).
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  • The survey was conducted in all States and Territories and across urban, rural and remote areas of Australia (excluding very remote areas) from January 2018 to August 2018. The survey included around 5,800 adults.
  • The HLQ was developed by Richard Osborne, Rachelle Buchbinder, Gerald Elsworth and Roy Batterham, and is more fully described in “The grounded psychometric development and initial validation of the Health Literacy Questionnaire (HLQ)” BMC Public Health, 2013, 13:658. More information about the HLQ can be found here:
  • More information about the definition of health literacy can be found from the World Health Organization Health Literacy page found here:
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