Health literacy is a key determinant of health. According to WHO, health literacy consists of “the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health”. Health literacy is an asset for health and increasing health literacy in school-aged children will help them to sustain healthier behaviours and lifestyles, and develop competencies, attitudes and resources to avoid risk factors for NCDs.
Health literacy does not solely focus on externally provided (e.g. taught) information; other abilities are equally important, such as understanding one’s own wishes and preferences in health issues and being able to consider the ethical consequences of one’s actions on others and the world.
Schools are an important setting in which to develop health literacy because they can reach almost all school-aged children over a long period. This also makes schools the perfect arena for sustainable action. Within the school context, health education (either as a standalone subject or a cross-cutting theme) provides a key opportunity to promote health literacy, that is, the ability to make sound health decisions and to identify and work on the factors that influence health. However, health literacy is not an individual-level phenomenon only, but the organisational-level health literacy must be addressed within the education system and the whole school environment. In order to address the organisational, environmental and system-level factors, health literacy should be integrated in the Health Promoting School framework and ensure that health literacy is strengthened on different school levels across the whole school environment (i. e. school policy, school organization, school curriculum, teacher training, school networks, school-linked health and social services).
The professional development of teachers in relation to health literacy is another important factor in addressing health literacy learning at the classroom-level and must be understood as the counterpart of student`s health literacy as teachers provide knowledge, information and learning opportunities and too should act as role models. In this context, it calls for quality education and training of teachers in order to equip them with the professional capacity to teach about health topics and address the enhancement of student health literacy.
In relation to health literacy of school-aged children, there are 5 different health competencies that describe the level of a student’s health literacy enables them to develop autonomy, increase empowerment and exert greater control over their health and wellbeing - 1. Theoretical knowledge, 2. Practical competencies 3. Critical thinking 4. Self-awareness 5. Citizenship competencies. For more information about these skills see definition ‘Health Competencies'.