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Center for Health Literacy Promotion Blog

Shanghai Declaration on Health Promotion: Strengthen Health Literacy

Sustainable Development Goals Depend on Health Literacy improvement
The 9th Global Conference on Health Promotion takes place in Shanghai November 21-24. The conference is expected to endorse theShanghai Declaration on Health Promotion. The declaration establishes health promotion, particularly health literacy improvement as essential in development and implementation of theSustainable Development Goals (SDG) for 2030The SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals which expired in 2015.  If endorsed by the conference, as expected, the declaration will be proposed to the third United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases (NCD) in 2018.
The Shanghai Declaration on Health Promotion is the second global call for action to “strengthen heath literacy” worldwide; and thereby to improve health and well-being and empower women. It  builds on an earlier Shanghai Declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2011. Both declarations present health literacy improvement as a pragmatic intervention to reduce NCD—now the leading causes of death worldwide, and a leading source of health inequities and disparities.
UN members that sign on to the declaration will commit to develop national plans and funding for regular health literacy surveys to build the evidence base and make global comparisons.  This population approach is seen as part of a necessary “whole-of-government and whole-of-society” commitment to health and sustainable development.  Definition and measurement of health literacy across cultures and health systems will be the major challenge, particularly for the US which remains focused on individual patients’ reading skills.
Signers will further commit to make healthcare institutions more understandable, friendly and people-centered by setting standards for health literate organizations. The US has much contribute in this regard with the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy and  the Health Literate Care Model. What’s missing is the funding.
The Shanghai Declaration on Health Promotion prioritizes health literacy as “a critical entry point to make a difference… through the settings of everyday life and people’s capacity to increase control over their own health and its determinants.”  Health literacy in everyday life and health literacy as empowerment have been the focus of my research. While these concepts are fundamental to health protection and promotion, and to prudent use of services; they are  outside the dominant prospective on health literacy in the US.
We each use our health literacy skills in three domains: disease treatment and healthcare, disease prevention/health protection, and health promotion. I urge the US delegation to sign on to the new Shanghai Declaration. I urge all health literacy researchers and practitioners to expand our thinking about health literacy by reading the declaration and reflecting on what action you could take to strengthen health literacy for health promotion?

Read the declaration in English, Chinese, French, Spanish or Russian here.

World Bank. Empowerment. PovertyNet. Retrieved 6.15.16
Kickbush I, Pelikan JM, Apfel F, Tsouros AD (Eds.). Health Literacy: The Solid Facts. World Health Organization, Copenhagen; 2013. Retrieved 10.4.16.
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