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Health Literacy in the United States

Data from the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS), 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), and the 2012 Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) show that adult literacy skills change relatively little over time. According to the PIAAC, only 12% percent of adults showed the highest proficiency level on literacy tasks, and even less, 9%, showed proficient numeracy skills. These results are the same as a decade earlier when the NAAL demonstrated that only 12% of adults have proficient health literacy skills.


These data indicate that we have broad-based, population-level challenges that demand comparably broad, population-level solutions.


Read about the four NAAL Health Literacy Levels by selecting the links below.


1. Below Basic

2. Basic

3. Intermediate

4. Proficient

Adults with higher literacy scores report better health, which suggests they have a stronger set of skills to prevent disease and protect their health.

U.S. Adults Self-Rated Health Status and 2012 PIAAC Average Literacy Scores

Note: Total possible score is 500. *p<.05. Average score is significantly different from “Excellent” average.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 2013. Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments Among U.S. Adults. Washington, DC.