CDC’s Health Literacy Action Plan

Why Does CDC Have a Health Literacy Action Plan?

Public health and safety rest in large part on people’s access to information they can use to protect and promote their health. CDC created a health literacy plan to improve how we develop and share health information and provide public health services to different audiences.

We need this plan because limited health literacy is a national public health issue that affects almost 9 out of 10 adults. With the resources and staff at hand, we can take incremental, feasible steps to make our health information and services accessible and understandable by the different audiences we serve.

CDC Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy

The CDC Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy is adapted from the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy (National Action Plan) released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The National Action Plan provides a blueprint for efforts to improve health literacy across all sectors involved in health information and services. The CDC Office of Communications uses the action plan to identify and track the most important actions the agency can take to improve health literacy.

The plan provides a framework that guides our approach to using clear communication and health literacy methods. The plan is organized around three goals.

Goal 1: Develop and Share Health and Safety Information That Is Accurate, Accessible, and Actionable

In today’s communication-rich environment, people look to many places for information about their health and safety. However, much of the publicly available health and safety information is too technical, too complex, and often too vague about recommended actions. CDC has a unique opportunity to serve as an accessible source of accurate and actionable public health and safety information to help the public as they try to:

  • Prevent harm or disease
  • Understand diagnoses
  • Decide on treatments
  • Evaluate risks to their health
Group of people working on health literacy action plan.

CDC uses an action plan to identify and track the most important actions the agency can take to improve health literacy.

CDC is implementing 7 strategies for this goal.

Goal 2: Integrate Clear Communication and Health Literacy into Public Health Planning, Funding, Policy Development, Research, and Evaluation

Clear communication is essential at CDC because we lead the public health system in the United States and are a key contributor to the global public health infrastructure. CDC influences many aspects of public health practice:

  • Planning
  • Data collection
  • Analysis and reporting
  • Disease outbreak investigations
  • Use and evaluation of interventions to determine effectiveness
  • Public health policy making

We also are a key source of much of the public health information distributed by other organizations. CDC’s policies and procedures affect not only our own practices, but also the practices of other organizations such as public health departments, schools, and employers. Through our own actions in funding, policy development, research, and evaluation, we can use existing resources to set priorities for and address limited health literacy. Through our interactions with grantees, funded partners, and key decision makers, we can raise awareness of limited health literacy and create opportunities to address it.

CDC is implementing 5 strategies for this goal.

Goal 3: Incorporate Accurate, Standards-Based, and Developmentally Appropriate Health and Science Information and Curricula in Educational Settings from Preschool through University Levels

Public health has a special responsibility to make sure children and adolescents have the health literacy skills—including math and science literacy—they need to prevent early-onset chronic health problems and protect themselves from infectious diseases, violence, and injury. Children need health literacy skills early in life, and helping them build these skills is part of caring for and educating them. CDC can promote and encourage the use of its own evidence-based resources for health education and collaborate with other organizations to address gaps and develop new tools for health and education professionals.

CDC is implementing 2 strategies for this goal.

Woman reading Plain Writing Act Compliance Report

Read what we’re doing to comply with the Plain Writing Act.

CDC’s Progress

Using plain language is a health literacy strategy. Plain language can help address the needs of those with limited literacy skills, as well as those with limited health literacy skills. The Plain Writing Act (The Act) requires federal agencies to “[w]rite annual compliance reports and post these reports on its plain language web page.” You can learn about CDC’s progress in putting the Act into action by reading our annual Plain Writing Act Compliance Report [PDF – 1 MB].​

How Can the National Action Plan and CDC’s Action Plan Help My Organization?

You can use both plans as a framework for developing your own organizational plan or for providing a justification for your efforts to address health literacy. Additionally, you can use these plans to help guide your strategic actions by following the steps below.

  • Review: Examine your organization’s priorities and programs and ask how attention to health literacy could improve the organization’s services and outcomes.
  • Choose: Identify the goals and strategies in the plans that are most relevant to your programs.
  • Try: Plan and implement strategies.
  • Evaluate: Assess the effectiveness of chosen strategies.

In addition, the Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Health Literacy published the Ten Attributes of Health Literate Health Care Organizations. This report can help you launch your organization’s journey to become aware of health literacy issues and address them for the people you serve.

Find out how to develop your own organizational plan.