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Health Literacy for Improved Health Outcomes: Effective Capital in the Marketplace


  • The authors are listed alphabetically but otherwise contributed equally to this project. The authors are especially grateful to Julie Ozanne and Bige Saatcioglu for their support and assistance over the course of this research and all their informants whose experiences inspired their research.


Improving consumers’ health literacy addresses many of the rising problems in healthcare. We empirically support a reconceptualization of health literacy as a social and cultural practice through which adults leverage a range of skills as well as social networks to meet their needs. Pierre Bourdieu's “theory of practice” guides this reconceptualization and facilitates articulation of the array of strategies used in the complex healthcare marketplace. We focus on the low literate consumers’ alternative forms of capital and the providers’ recognition and support. The findings, from an emergent research design consisting of depth interviews with low literate consumers and healthcare providers, suggest a critical, reflective approach that enhances health literacy, empowers consumers to become partners in their own healthcare programs, and improves health outcomes.

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