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The process-knowledge model of health literacy: evidence from a componential analysis of two commonly used measures.

  • Chin, Jessie
  • Morrow, Daniel G
  • Stine-Morrow, Elizabeth A L
  • Conner-Garcia, Thembi
  • Graumlich, James F
  • Murray, Michael D
Published Article
Journal of health communication
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2011
16 Suppl 3
DOI: 10.1080/10810730.2011.604702
PMID: 21951254


We investigated the effects of domain-general processing capacity (fluid ability such as working memory), domain-general knowledge (crystallized ability such as vocabulary), and domain-specific health knowledge for two of the most commonly used measures of health literacy (S-TOFHLA and REALM). One hundred forty six community-dwelling older adults participated; 103 had been diagnosed with hypertension. The results showed that older adults who had higher levels of processing capacity or knowledge (domain-general or health) performed better on both of the health literacy measures. Processing capacity interacted with knowledge: Processing capacity had a lower level of association with health literacy for participants with more knowledge than for those with lower levels of knowledge, suggesting that knowledge may offset the effects of processing capacity limitations on health literacy. Furthermore, performance on the two health literacy measures appeared to reflect a different weighting for the three types of abilities. S-TOFHLA performance reflected processing capacity as well as general knowledge, whereas performance on the REALM depended more on general and health knowledge than on processing capacity. The findings support a process-knowledge model of health literacy among older adults, and have implications for selecting health literacy measures in various health care contexts.

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