Challenging a Statistic: Why should we accept that 60 percent of adult Australians have low health literacy?

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Stephen Black


This paper briefly considers Australia’s only national health survey published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2008 which has been widely referenced within the health sector. The main issue discussed is the use of a criterion level (level 3) to determine the point below which nearly 60 percent of Australian adults can be considered to have inadequate health literacy. The argument is made that this criterion level is arbitrary and statistically unjustified, yet it serves the purpose of presenting health literacy as a ‘crisis’ demanding action, which in turn represents the interests of dominant groups in this globalised, neo-liberal era.

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Author Biography

Stephen Black, University of Technology Sydney

Stephen Black is a research associate in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney. His research focuses mainly on socio-cultural understandings of literacy and numeracy in adult education contexts.