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Health literacy is not associated with how minorities perceive their physical or mental health status

Health literacy—the ability to read and understand health information and navigate the health care system, as well as perceived health status, is related to patient outcomes such as adherence to medication and hospitalizations. However, health literacy is not associated with how minorities perceive their health status, suggests a study of blacks and Latinos receiving care at five urban health clinics. This group of Medicaid and/or Medicare-insured patients had worse physical and mental health than population norms. Although 70 percent of them had adequate health literacy, 30 percent had inadequate or marginal health literacy. Yet, level of health literacy had no relationship to how these individuals perceived their health, note Carmen E. Guerra, M.D., M.S.C.E., and Judy A. Shea, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

The researchers administered the group questionnaires on demographics and health literacy (based on reading skills), an index of coexisting conditions, and the SF-12 health status questionnaire. In comparison to the population norm mean score of 50 on the SF-12 and Charlson Comorbidity Index, this group scored a mean of 41.5 on the SF-12 Physical Component Summary (PCS) and a mean of 44.0 on the Mental Component Summary (MSC). This indicates overall poorer physical and mental health status for this group.

Older age, Medicaid insurance, and more coexisting medical conditions were associated with lower PCS scores. Higher education was associated with higher MSC scores, while coexisting conditions were associated with lower MSC scores. Although health literacy entered the model, its impact on PCS and MCS was not significant, after adjusting for sociodemographic factors and coexisting conditions. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10299).

See "Health literacy and perceived health status in Latinos and African Americans," by Drs. Guerra and Shea, in the Spring 2007 Ethnicity & Disease 17, pp. 305-312.

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