Health Literacy for Teens

By Joey Kaji, SBHA Youth Advisory Council member

The following reflects Joey’s lived experiences, thoughts, and opinions.

As a senior in high school, I know that right now is a time for big changes. However, one change that is often overlooked is the shift in healthcare management. In school, I’ve heard my friends complain about the myriad of phone calls they received after they turned 18, from simple scheduling appointments to more confusing tasks like filing paperwork. Transitioning to being responsible for your healthcare for the first time as you age is complicated as many young people haven’t had to track their healthcare before, and there is a lack of support through the process. Each year, a new generation of youth grows into adulthood, and it’s important to teach them how their healthcare grows with them.

As it stands, only 12% of Americans are considered proficient in their health literacy skills (1). This means 88% of the population does not know how to navigate the complex health systems of the US.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that high schools provide courses that teach people to understand the healthcare system (2). However, through my own experiences, I have seen the lack of information. Thus, youth must learn to manage and understand their healthcare.

Currently, Youth are expected to turn to their parents to teach them how to understand the healthcare system. However, the struggle persists with such a large population of adults who do not understand healthcare (3). Working with parents to explain healthcare to them can help improve transitioning healthcare for their youth as well. To improve health literacy, healthcare information must be accessible to all. By emphasizing simple language, it helps to breach the barrier created by complex medical jargon that separates providers and patients (4).

The second solution is taking advantage of the vast amount of tools on the internet. E-learning for health literacy provides a great resource for youth who don’t have access to other methods (5). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health (NIH) recommend many online sources to better understand the healthcare system (6):

Using innovative teaching methods, health literacy can reach more people (7). Many communities may not have the resources to teach health literacy, so it’s up to individuals to seek it out on their own.

The third solution is turning to healthcare professionals around you. Whether those working in your school-based health center or health workers outside of school. School-based health centers offer a myriad of resources to students. While in school, providers, administrators, and teachers can help students learn to understand the complexities of the healthcare world. Whether through creating learning groups for students or simply passing out pamphlets, School-based health centers offer a great center for improving health literacy. They will have the proper understanding and resources to help guide your health literacy.

As youth, we must learn how to access and utilize the healthcare system. The grave statistics show, however, that it is a large-scale problem across the country. You must help others understand how to become health literate and call upon legislators and leaders to take action: mandating health literacy topics and allocating funding towards health literacy improvement. Most importantly, asking questions, spreading the word, and continuing to learn is crucial. Helping others while helping yourself will not only improve your community’s health literacy but improve yours as well.


  1. How prevalent is low health literacy? Pfizer. Accessed March 27, 2024.,below%20basic%20health%20literacy%20skills.
  2. Schools. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 26, 2022. Accessed March 27, 2024.
  3. Seidel E, Cortes T, Chong C. Strategies to improve organizational health literacy. Patient Safety Network. Accessed March 27, 2024.
  4. Davis AD. Four simple strategies for improving patient health literacy. Advance Care Planning (ACP) Decisions. February 2, 2024. Accessed March 27, 2024.
  5. Navigating the health care system. Moving Health Care Upstream. January 31, 2023. Accessed March 27, 2024.
  6. Places: Where youth confront health literacy challenges and develop skills. Developing Health Literacy Skills in Children and Youth: Proceedings of a Workshop. September 24, 2020. Accessed March 27, 2024.,navigate%20the%20health%20environment%20online.
  7. Transition to adult health care. National Parent Center on Transition and Employment. Accessed March 27, 2024.