Study finds health literacy in Germany at a new low

Research by Doris Schaeffer and Klaus Hurrelmann shows that majority of Germans do not trust media in regards to health information.

How knowledgeable is the German population when it comes to understanding information about health? A new study by Klaus Hurrelmann, Professor of Public Health and Education at the Hertie School, and Doris Schaeffer of Bielefeld University, shows that large segments of the population are not adequately prepared to properly assess and evaluate health risks and implement them in everyday life.

Worryingly, the researchers show that since 2014, health literacy among Germans has deteriorated. In 2014, around 54 percent of respondents said that they had difficulties in grasping the wide range of health information available to them. In 2020, that figure had risen to almost 60 percent. The study involved more than 2,000 people aged 18 and above.

The difficulties increase even further when it comes to people with a low level of education. “Health information has apparently become so diverse and confusing that only people with a good educational background can find their way through,” says Hurrelmann, adding that in the long run, this may lead to further health inequality.

According to respondents, the deterioration is linked to the increase in the variety and also contradictory nature of information available. Additionally, misinformation on health topics has also increased – something we have seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trustworthiness of the media is also a contributing factor to the country’s declining health literacy: 72 percent of respondents consider it difficult to judge whether information about health issues in the media is reliable, while 61 percent feel overwhelmed looking for health information provided by the media in regards to preventing illness. 56 percent find it difficult to find accurate information on how to deal with mental health problems.

Download the full study (in German) here.

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