Schwerpunkt Gesundheitskompetenz

Health literacy

It plays an important role when it comes to making decisions for a healthy life: health literacy.

All people should be able to make their own decisions about their health and contribute to a better healthcare system. To do this, they must have access to health information and be able to understand, appraise and use it for their behavior and decisions. In other words, they need sufficient health literacy. Health literacy is therefore necessary to better understand one's own health, to manage health issues and challenges and to make informed decisions for one's own and others’ health and well-being. Health literacy also plays an important role in containing the constantly increasing healthcare costs, improving the quality of healthcare and reducing health inequalities. 

Definition of health literacy

Various definitions and models of health literacy can be found in the literature. A systematic analysis brought these together in one model and defined health literacy comprehensively as follows:

"Health literacy is linked to general literacy and entails people's knowledge, motivation and competences to access, understand, appraise and apply health information in order to make judgements and take decisions in everyday life concerning healthcare, disease prevention and health promotion to maintain or improve quality of life during the life course." (Sørensen et al., 2012)

According to this definition, health literacy is understood as a relational concept. This means that health literacy is not just a question of personal abilities or competences, but also depends on the demands and complexities of the environment. It is therefore about the interaction between individuals, organizations, situations and systems.

Common understanding of the concept for Switzerland

As a society, we are currently confronted with a multitude of global risks and challenges, such as the digital transformation, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, the infodemic and the increasing number of people affected by chronic and mental illnesses. These challenges have a major impact on the health and well-being of people and the population. These social developments also have an impact on the concept of health literacy, which needs to be continuously developed and adapted. For this reason, a process involving numerous experts was initiated for the first time with the aim to establish a common understanding of the concept for Switzerland. The Center for Health Literacy carried out this work on behalf of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and in collaboration with the Health Literacy Alliance (in German Allianz Gesundheitskompetenz).

The aim of the concept paper resulting from this process is to create a common understanding for Switzerland. It should also serve as a basis for future work and activities in this area. In this concept paper, health literacy is understood as follows:

"Health literacy is a bundle of competences to proactively deal with health-related information, services, and challenges and, thereby, empowers people to manage their and other’s health and well-being." (De Gani et al., 2023)

The concept paper also clearly defines health literacy enablers:

"Health literacy enablers are practices, processes, structures and policies of various actors within and beyond institutional, sectoral or regional boundaries through which people are empowered to develop and strengthen their health literacy." (De Gani et al., 2023) 


Health literacy in a nutshell

Find out more about health literacy in our explanatory video.

The video is also available in German, French and Italian


  • A concept paper on health literacy

    pdf (3.58 MB)