Health literacy and chronic conditions: A life course perspective

Gill Rowlands, Joanne Protheroe, Luis Saboga-Nunes, Stephan Van den Broucke, Diane Levin-Zamir, Orkan Okan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Chronic conditions (otherwise known as long-term health conditions) have been defined as ‘illnesses that are prolonged in duration, do not often resolve spontaneously, and are rarely cured completely’, and which are managed with medication and other treatments (Department of Health and Social Care, 2012). As medical advances and improved healthcare have transformed many life-threatening, acute medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) into chronic lifelong conditions, the number of patients suffering from one or more chronic conditions is expanding – chronic diseases account for 86 per cent of the deaths and 77 per cent of the disease burden in Europe (WHO, 2015). And the issue is global: 80 per cent of premature deaths due to chronic diseases occur in developing countries according to data from 2009 (WHO, 2015).The increasing prevalence of chronic conditions that is currently found in children becomes even more disturbing when considering that its prevalence increases through the life course, peaking among older people. In the UK, 58 per cent of people aged over 60 now have a chronic condition compared to 14 per cent in younger adults. People are increasingly suffering from more than one chronic condition simultaneously (multi-morbidity) (Department of Health and Social Care, 2012). Chronic diseases also have an impact on economies – treatment and care is estimated to take up around £7 in every £10 of total health and social care expenditure in the UK according to data from 2009 (Department of Health and Social Care, 2012).The aim of this chapter is to explore the associations between chronic conditions and health literacy, both from the perspective of patients and citizens (a cross-sectional view), and through people’s life journey from childhood through to adulthood and old age (a longitudinal view). It considers cultural aspects and the role of biomedicine, health promotion and health literacy in advocating healthy lifestyles to promote health and reduce the likelihood and impact of chronic disease. The chapter concludes with implications for research, practice and policy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Handbook of Health Literacy: Research, practice and policy across the lifespan
EditorsOrkan Okan, Ullrich Bauer, Diane Levin-Zamir, Paulo Pinheiro, Kristine Sørensen
PublisherPolicy Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781447344537
ISBN (Print)9781447344513
StatePublished - 2019


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