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BioMed Central, BMC Public Health, 1(23), 2023

DOI: 10.1186/s12889-023-15136-6



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Association between multiple chronic conditions and insufficient health literacy: cross-sectional evidence from a population-based sample of older adults living in Switzerland

This paper is made freely available by the publisher.
This paper is made freely available by the publisher.

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AbstractBackgroundHealth literacy is the ability to find, understand, assess, and apply health information. Individuals suffering from multiple chronic conditions have complex healthcare needs that may challenge their health literacy skills. This study aimed to investigate the relationship between multimorbidity, the number of chronic conditions, and health literacy levels in a sample of adults aged 58+ in Switzerland.MethodsWe used data from 1,615 respondents to a paper-and-pencil questionnaire administered as part of wave 8 (2019/2020) of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) in Switzerland. Health literacy was measured using the short version of the European Health Literacy Survey questionnaire. The final score ranged from 0 to 16 and was categorised into three health literacy levels: inadequate (0–8), problematic (9–12), and sufficient (13–16). The number of chronic conditions was self-reported based on a pre-defined list. Associations were examined using multivariable ordinary least squares and ordered probit regression models, controlling for key socio-demographic characteristics.ResultsOverall, 63.5% of respondents reported having at least one chronic condition. Respondents who reported one, two, and three or more chronic conditions were more likely to have lower health literacy scores compared to respondents who did not report any chronic condition (p<0.05,p<0.01, andp<0.001, respectively). Suffering from two and three or more chronic conditions (vs. no chronic condition) was significantly associated with a higher likelihood of having inadequate or problematic health literacy levels (bothp-values <0.01).ConclusionsOur findings suggest a need to improve health literacy in older adults suffering from chronic conditions. Improved health literacy could constitute a promising lever to empower individuals to better self-manage their health to ultimately reduce the double burden of chronic diseases and insufficient health literacy in this vulnerable population.