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Health literacy is linked to personal happiness

Research Activities, October 2009

Health literacy refers to a set of skills (reading and numerical) that allow individuals to function adequately in various health care settings. One such skill is the ability to fill out medical forms without assistance. Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Center for Education and Research on Therapeutics (CERT) and the University of Oklahoma have now found a positive correlation between health literacy and personal levels of happiness. T

he study involved a telephone survey of 383 individuals from 39 primary care practices in 21 Alabama counties. Study participants were 50 years of age or older and taking prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The survey gathered information on demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, health indicators, and happiness scores. Health literacy was measured by asking participants about how confident they were in filling out medical forms by themselves. Happiness was measured using the four-item Subjective Happiness Scale.

Happiness scores increased steadily with higher levels of health literacy. Low happiness scores were associated with an age of less than 65 years, poverty, no college education, and a lower literacy status. Health literacy remained significantly associated with happiness even after controlling for demographic variables, poverty levels, and self-reported health. The researchers suggest that the easy-to-use single question about health literacy can be used in the clinical setting to identify patients at risk for multiple negative outcomes, including low happiness levels.

The study was supported in part by a grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10389) to the University of Alabama at Birmingham CERT. For more information on the CERTs program, please visit

See "Health literacy and happiness: A community-based study," by Erik Angner, Ph.D., Michael J. Miller, R.Ph., Dr.P.H., Midge N. Ray, R.N., M.S.N., M.Ed., and others, in the online first edition of Social Indicators Research at

Editor's Note: October is Health Literacy Month. AHRQ health literacy research and tools can be found at: You can also subscribe for health literacy and cultural competence E-mail updates at:

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Page last reviewed October 2009
Internet Citation: Health literacy is linked to personal happiness: Research Activities, October 2009. October 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.