Health literacy in the lives of young people (16-19 years) in England: a participatory study (2018)

Turner, Wendy (2018). Health literacy in the lives of young people (16-19 years) in England: a participatory study (2018). PhD thesis The University of Northampton.


A range of recent research suggests that health literacy, characterised as ‘more than simply being able to ‘read pamphlets’, make appointments’ (WHO, 2015:1) underpins health knowledge and understanding (Rowlands et al, 2015) which, in turn, impacts on health behaviour and choices (Abel et al, 2014), health decision making and use of services (SCMI, 2014b). There is also evidence that being health illiterate is linked to the socio- demographic outcomes of health inequalities (Batterham et al, 2016) and of poorer life outcomes (Sentell et al, 2017, Rudd, 2015). Currently, there is limited knowledge about how young people become health literate (Roberts, 2015a, Warsh et al, 2014). This study addresses this gap in knowledge, offering recommendations for practice from the perspectives of young people.

The study was carried out with young people (aged 16-19 years) and used a participatory, co-produced research approach. Methods of data collection included the use of participatory meetings with a co-production group of young people, and a detailed online survey. The research was completed within a mainstream English secondary school which offered access to young people from a range of diverse backgrounds and with a variety of experiences. Findings from the study suggest that being health literate is a life skill which prepares and supports young people’s successful transition into adulthood. Young people’s contributions illustrate ways in which the prioritisation of health literacy would enhance their health knowledge, develop their confidence and skills to use their health knowledge, improve their health service use and tackle health outcome inequalities. The thesis concludes with evidence-based recommendations from young people to enhance the way health literacy as a life skill should be developed and taught within school by health experts.

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