People with poor reading skills are likely to be less healthy than those who read easily, according to recent research. Literacy skills are important for keeping in good shape.
"Some people don't seem to obtain necessary health information because they're not good readers," says associate professor Kjersti Lundetræ at the University of Stavanger's Reading Centre.
Together with fellow associate professor Egil Gabrielsen at the Reading Centre and general practitioner Reidar Stokke, she has written an article on this subject entitled Health in Every Word.
This concludes that a relationship exists between self-perceived health and literacy, and draws on data from the international adult literacy and life skills survey (ALL).
Self-perceived health can mean feeling pains, physical condition hampering everyday activities, fatigue, or emotional problems which affect social relationships.
"Other research shows that self-perceived health is closely related to actual well-being," explains Lundetræ. "So adults with low literacy skills, as a group, are likely to be in worse physical shape than those who can read well."
A perception of poor health increases among weak readers with age. It is greatest among those aged 45-65 and lowest in the youngest group, aged 16-24.
"When you're young, your health will usually be good regardless of how well or poorly you look after yourself," Lundetræ points out.
"So it's natural that the relationship between weak reading skills and the perception of poor health rises with age. That's when you usually feel the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle or failing to look after yourself properly."
Compared with gender, age, education and income, literacy is the variable which has the strongest correlation with self-perceived health.
But this applies only to physical condition. The results show no similar correlation between literacy skills and mental health.
"Advice on nutrition, healthy diet and physical activity is increasingly communicated through newspaper and magazine articles and on the internet," Lundetræ explains.
"We receive a great deal of information by reading. It's conceivable that certain people miss out on important health advice because they read poorly and seldom."
A brief visit to the family doctor is often supplemented with printed advice in the form of a brochure or a leaflet supplied with medicine.