South Shore Health Literacy Initiative

Dates: 2015

State: Massachusetts

Client(s): United Way of the Greater Seacoast

Services: Health Communication, Training & Technical Assistance

Technical Expertise: Community Health Coalitions


Limited health literacy, defined by CDC as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions” has been linked to compromised health status and consequently to health disparities. In its 2004 report, “Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion,” the National Library of Medicine cited racial and ethnic minorities, people with less than a high school degree, older adults, people with low income levels, non-native speakers of English, and people with compromised health status as populations most likely to experience low-health literacy. The First Annual Report Card (2011) of the Healthy People/Healthy Economy Coalition gave Health Literacy a grade of “incomplete” with the comment: “Little is being done as yet to address health literacy systematically, either in Massachusetts or elsewhere. However, numerous initiatives, now in early stages, aim to increase the engagement of Massachusetts residents in their health and health care—a task that will require health care and public health professionals to overcome limited health literacy among Massachusetts residents.” South Shore Community Partners in Prevention have decided to take targeted action to address this barrier and thereby advance opportunities to improve health across their region.

JSI supported South Shore Community Partners in Prevention to create an action plan to comprehensively improve health literacy across the eleven communities that collaborate on health promotion in their Southeastern MA region. Coupling JSI’s assistance in planning and implementing vital health literacy initiatives includes, but is not limited to, health care systems change, community engagement, training programs, materials development, community health worker outreach services, and other measures identified in the "The State of Health Literacy" regional needs assessment.

This was an exciting opportunity to advance an innovative regional approach to health literacy that goes beyond individual interventions by working collaboratively with healthcare, governmental, schools, businesses, community service organizations and other stakeholders.