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 has created a plan to improve how we create 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 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.

How Does CDC Use Its Plan?

The CDC Plan is adapted from the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacyexternal icon (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 the Associate Director for Communication uses the action plan to identify and track the most important actions the agency can take to improve health literacy.

Group of Business people working on an action plan.

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

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, these plans can be used to help guide your strategic actions by following the steps below:

  • Review: Examine your organization’s priorities and programs and ask, how could attention to health literacy improve our services and outcomes?
  • Choose: Identify the most relevant goals and strategies in the Plan for 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 Organizationspdf iconexternal icon. This article 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.

Note: References to CDC also apply to ATSDR.

CDC/ATSDR Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy

The CDC/ATSDR Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy provides a framework that guides our approach to using clear communication and health literacy methods. The plan is organized around three goals.

CDC’s Health Literacy Goals

  1. Develop and disseminate health and safety information that is accurate, accessible, and actionable.
  2. Integrate clear communication and health literacy in public health planning, funding, policy development, research, and evaluation.
  3. Incorporate accurate, standards-based, and developmentally appropriate health and science information and curricula in educational settings from childcare through university levels.

Health Literacy Goals

Goal 1: Develop and Disseminate 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

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 9 strategies for this goal.

Goal 3: Incorporate Accurate, Standards-Based, and Developmentally Appropriate Health and Science Information and Curricula in Educational Settings from Childcare 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.

What Progress has CDC Made Implementing this Plan?

You can learn more about CDC’s progress by reading our 2020 Plain Writing Act Compliance Report​ pdf icon[PDF – 349 KB].


Page last reviewed: November 19, 2020