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Second International Conference on Health Literacy

October 6-8, 2014, Taipei, Taiwan

Opening remarks

Stephan Van den Broucke

Vice President, International Union for Health Promotion and Education


Health literacy is gaining critical importance in health promotion. When the concept was introduced in public health in the 1970s, it was mainly concerned with health care services, and its focus was limited to the ability to handle words and numbers in a medical context. But over the years the meaning of health literacy has expanded to include more complex and interconnected abilities, and the concept has found its way into public health and health promotion. In addition to the already significant body of literature linking low health literacy to decreased medication adherence, poor knowledge of disease, poor adherence to self-care management, and poor treatment outcomes, there is now an increasing number of studies attesting to the fact that people with lower health literacy are also less likely to engage in health promoting behaviours and to take preventive actions. Modern definitions of health literacy therefore incorporate both the medical and public health perspectives, and account for the knowledge and competences that are required to meet the complex demands of modern society with regard to being ill, being at risk for illness, and staying healthy.

As such, health literacy has become a key construct for health promotion, and receives increasing prominence on health promotion conferences and in health promotion journals. The relevance of health literacy for health promotion is threefold. Firstly, health literacy is a key indicator of the outcomes of health education, which remains an important strategy of health promotion. Secondly, health literacy acts as a leverage to create and strengthen health literacy–friendly settings that are easy to navigate and empower people to make sound health decisions in the context of everyday life: at home, in the community, at the workplace, in the health care system, and in the educational system. And thirdly, health literacy can help to explain the health disparities among groups within populations.

As the global professional organization for health promotion and education, the International Union for Health Promotion and Education supports actions to improve health literacy. In line with the recommendations recently issued by the European Regional Office of WHO, actions to strengthen health literacy need to consider different levels: to ensure better health communication through establishing health literacy guidelines; to create and strengthen health literacy–friendly settings; and to develop policies for health literacy at the local, national and international level. While the health sector can lead by example through the creation of health care settings that empower patients and promote and support health literacy, politicians, professionals, civil society and the private sector should all contribute to addressing the health literacy challenges. At the same time, a continued investment remains necessary to document health literacy and understand the causal pathways of how poor health literacy influences health and health disparities.


These topics are all on the agenda of the Second International Conference on Health Literacy and Health Promotion. The International Union for Health Promotion and Education is proud to support this Conference, which doubtlessly will contribute to the important and timely task of providing research support to addressing low health literacy in the population. 

Summary from Professor Peter Chang from Taiwan - Second International Conference on Health Literacy

 Professor Peter Chang has provided a video summary of the conference. 

Click link below for video summary

Second International Conference on Health Literacy Taiwan