[WATCH] Survey finds 54% have sufficient level of health literacy

The survey also revealed that a shocking 45.8% have a 'problematic' or 'inadequate' level of health literacy. 

Commissioner for mental health John Cachia. Photo: Ray Attard
Commissioner for mental health John Cachia. Photo: Ray Attard
Survey finds 54% have sufficient level of health literacy • Video by Ray Attard

A health literacy survey for Malta has revealed that 54.2% of respondents had an 'excellent' or 'sufficient' level of health literacy, while a shocking 45.8% have a 'problematic' or 'inadequate' level of health literacy. 

The survey, carried out in July 2014, was a collaboration between the Office of the Commissioner for mental health and the National Statistics Office. The aim of the survey was to measure health literacy levels among Maltese people and explore ways to advance health literacy in the future, with a particular interest in understanding literacy levels related to mental disorders.

According to Commissioner for Mental Health Dr John Cachia, national results compare considerably well with findings of the European Health Literacy Survey (EU HLS) carried out in eight member states, where the average European general health literacy index of 33.8 as opposed to Malta's 34, where the index goes from 0 to 50

Cachia said that the survey had been financed by the Office of the Commissioner for Mental Health, using phone interviews and 16 representative questions on the subject. The sample of respondents chosen was made up of people over 18 and living in private households, stratified by age group and gender. 

Respondents were asked a number of questions including how easy they find looking for information on treatments for various illnesses, and understanding what doctors have to say to them, among others.

"Results showed that 87% understand and 94% of respondents follow the instructions given by professionals. However the results show that only some 10% of the population found it easy to find information on how to manage mental health problems. Some 45.7%  admitted they have difficulty or do not know where to find information even on the most common mental health issues like stress and depression. This figure, which is very different from other countries, shows the lag that our country experiences in terms of mental health awareness.  Similarly, many respondents felt that it was difficult to apply or use information given by the media," Cachia said, stressing the importance of addressing these results.

"Even though the percentage of 45.8% doesn't seem very high, it is a figure that needs to be looked at more closely," he said adding that there was no massive distinction between genders with 34.06% of males and 33.94% of females having adequate health literacy.  

Cachia said that the main vulnerable groups were found to be those who have a bad perception of their own health,  people over 76 years of age,  those with low education levels, those living in Gozo as well as those who had experienced a long term illness.

He added that for families that earn over €3,000 every month, levels of health literacy increase. 

Cachia explained that the level of health literacy in Malta was sufficient but well away from the highest levels in Europe, retained by the Netherlands with an impressive 71% of respondents having sufficient or excellent health literacy levels. He added that limited health literacy was a problem for nearly one in every two Maltese people. 

Cachia said that the study was of national importance both in terms of health and in terms of education. 

"We sometimes get mixed messages from TV programmes and even from other people," Cachia said, explaining the reasons for the study. 

"We tried to look at the communication and how people used the information they were presented with to make the appropriate decisions."

Cachia added that awareness of health literacy affects all members of society, irrespective of educational or financial background. He explained that research had also revealed differences in the awareness of people from different cultures.

"We need to focus on a centralised policy on how to ensure better health literacy in the general members of the public. However we also need to analyse ways to ensure that communication is clearer and more fruitful from professionals to the general public." 

Cachia also explained that the urvey focused on health literacy levels in three main domains; health care, disease prevention and health promotion.

Deputy Director General of Health and Food Safety for the European Commission, Martin Seychell, who was unable to attend the event, said that health literacy was important for people to understand what course of action to take. 

"Better health literacy can have a positive impact on the level of care given and it can also eliminate social exclusion and poverty."

The study looks at various subjects, starting from the health awarness of the elderly and those suffering chronic illnesses. 

"Health literacy also gives patients more power. They shouldn't simply be passive recipients, they should be informed and able to participate in the care they are given," Seychell said. 

The EU HLS is conducted by an EU Consortium, led by the Maastricht University with eight associated partners from Austria, Germany, Poland, Greece, Ireland, Bulgaria, Spain and the Netherlands.