Expanding Research on Health Literacy: Lessons from Traditional Literacy Studies

Nicola Diviani


As a reflection on the adaptivity of the field of health communication, this paper compares the adaptation process of the concept of health literacy, from its origins in school health education, when it was understood as a set of technical skills, to the most recent developments that have led to very broad conceptualizations, to the historical evolution of the conceptualizations of traditional literacy. The final goal is to gain insight on how the concept of health literacy may evolve in the near future, and to draw some hypotheses. After highlighting the primary similarities and differences between the adaptation processes of the two concepts, it is proposed that it will be necessary to move from one single concept of health literacy to more specific concepts, adapted to the content of different diseases (e.g. cancer) or settings (e .g. hospitals). This adaptation will be crucial in order to gain a deeper understanding of specific health literacy deficiencies and to create and improve both new and existing health communication and education interventions.  


traditional literacy; health literacy; health communication; adaptivity

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Studies in Communication Sciences | ISSN: 1424-4896