Caregiver health literacy and the use of child health services

Lee M. Sanders, Valerie T. Thompson, James D. Wilkinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES. Eighty million US adults have low health literacy, a risk factor for increased health care use among adults. The purpose of this work was to assess the association between caregiver health literacy and the use and cost of child health services. METHODS.We conducted a cross-sectional study of caregiver-child dyads from a sample of children aged 12 months to 12 years presenting to the pediatric emergency department of an urban, public hospital. Caregiver health literacy was measured by the Short Test of Functional Health Literacy in their preferred language (English or Spanish). Child health care use was measured by a 12-month retrospective review of the public hospital system's electronic database and of state Medicaid billing records for 4 types of visits: preventive care, urgent care, emergency care, and hospital care. Cost of child health care use was provided by Medicaid billing records. Multivariate analysis included caregiver education, age, and language proficiency, as well as child age, special health care needs, ethnicity, and health-insurance coverage. RESULTS.A total of 290 dyads were enrolled in the study. Twenty-two percent of caregivers had low (inadequate or marginal) health literacy. Caregivers with low health literacy were more likely to have less than a high school education, to have limited English proficiency, and to have been born outside the United States. There were no differences in health care use or cost between children of caregivers with low health literacy and children of caregivers with adequate health literacy. Three caregiver characteristics were associated with increased use of child health care services: born outside the United States, age at child's birth <24 years, and limited English proficiency. CONCLUSIONS. One in 5 caregivers of young children has low health literacy. Caregiver health literacy, however, was not associated with disparities in the use of child health services in this inner-city, ethnic minority population.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007


  • Health literacy
  • Primary caregiver
  • Use of pediatric health services

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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