Making a Case for "Education for Health Literacy": An International Perspective




Vamos, Sandra
Okan, Orkan
Sentell, Tetine
Rootman, Irving

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health


n many countries, health literacy research, practice, and policy have been moving away from a focus only on medical care and health-care settings to a much broader conceptualization. In this broader perspective, health literacy can be obtained and used across many other settings (e.g., school, home, workplaces, government) towards achieving health and wellness goals across the life-course for individuals, families, and communities. The education sector is a critical domain towards these achievements and education for health literacy is a fundamental process and outcome. This can help towards important public health goals, including critical health literacy, as oriented not only towards individual actions, but also towards supporting effective social and political action. This Perspective Article describes the importance and utility of the education for health literacy perspective, which, follows a view that health literacy is a key outcome of health education from which improved population health, health promotion and disease prevention could be achieved across diverse contexts. We first describe different educational paradigms to address health literacy and clarify the education for health literacy perspective as a supportive, instructional and capacity-building global resource across the life-course. Then, using specific examples from Canada, America, and Germany, we provide a snapshot of the diverse ways in which the education for health literacy perspective can be found in national policies. These include broad national goals and standards (Germany and Canada) and major health care reform (America). We next consider the tensions and gaps that can arise in the translation and implementation of these policies relative to the ideal education for health literacy perspective, especially related to equity. These include the need for funding, goals of the educational system, and limited evaluation of policy in practice. Finally, we highlight strategic opportunities to achieve education for health literacy and equity especially offering examples from innovative practice in Canada across the lifespan.



health literacy, education, equity, health care, life course


Vamos, S., Okan, O., Sentell, T., & Rootman, I. (2020). Making a Case for “Education for Health Literacy”: An International Perspective. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(4).