Low Literacy Equals Early Death Sentence


Older people with poor health literacy have a 50 percent higher mortality rate over five years than people with adequate reading skills. Low health literacy is defined as the inability to read and comprehend basic materials like prescription bottles, appointment slips, and hospital forms, according to the study from Northwestern University. Low health literacy was the top predictor of mortality after smoking, surpassing income and years of education. Most of the mortality differential was due to higher rates of death from cardiovascular disease. “When patients can’t read, they are not able to do the things necessary to stay healthy,” said David Baker, M.D., lead author of the study. “They don’t know how to take their medications correctly, they don’t understand when to seek medical care, and they don’t know how to care for their diseases.” This is the likely reason they’re much more likely to die. . . No Elder Left Behind, anyone? JULIA WHITTY

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  • Julia Whitty is the environmental correspondent for Mother Jones. Her latest book is Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. For more of her stories, click here.