Low health literacy has been associated with unfavorable health outcomes. We examined diabetes self- and clinical care measures among adults with diabetes by 3 dimensions of health literacy.
Questions about health literacy were available for optional use in the 2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. We analyzed 2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data from 4 states and the District of Columbia that had included both the Health Literacy and Diabetes optional modules.
Respondents who participated in the 2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia, and Washington, District of Columbia, and completed both modules (n = 4397).
Main Outcome Measures:
Health literacy was measured by level of difficulty (easy, difficult) with 3 health literacy tasks: getting health advice or information, understanding health information delivered orally by health professionals, and understanding written health information. Diabetes care measures included physical activity, self-monitoring blood glucose, self-checking feet, hemoglobin A1c testing, professional foot examination, flu vaccination, professional eye examination, dental visits, and diabetes self-management education.
Among those with self-reported diabetes, 5.9% found it difficult to get health advice or information, 10.7% found it difficult to understand information health professionals told them, and 12.0% found it difficult to understand written health information. Those who found it difficult to get health advice or information had 44% to 56% lower adjusted odds of A1c testing, professional foot examinations, and dental visits; those who found it difficult to understand written health information had lower odds of self-monitoring glucose and self-checking feet. Difficulty understanding both oral and written health information was associated with never having taken a diabetes self-management class.
Our results suggest that problems with health literacy may be a barrier to good disease management among adults with diabetes and that health care providers should be attentive to the needs of patients with low health literacy, especially for diabetes-specific specialty care.