Inadequate health literacy, namely the problematic individual's ability to navigate the health care system, has been depicted as a silent epidemic affecting a large part of the world population. Inadequate health literacy has been variously found to be a predictor of patient disengagement, inappropriateness of care, increased health care costs, and higher mortality rates. However, to date the evidence on the prevalence of limited health literacy is heterogeneous; moreover, studies dealing with this topic show a pronounced geographical concentration. To contribute in filling these gaps, this paper investigates health literacy skills in Italy. Drawing on the European Health Literacy Survey (HLS-EU), a tool to measure self-perceived levels of health literacy was administered to a representative sample of Italian citizens. A stepwise regression analysis allowed to shed light on the determinants and consequences of limited health literacy. Findings suggested that inadequate health literacy is a prevailing problem in Italy, even though it has been overlooked by both policy makers and health care practitioners. Financial deprivation was found to be a significant predictor of inadequate health literacy. Low health literate patients reported higher hospitalization rates and greater use of health services. As compared with the European Countries, Italy showed some peculiarities in terms of health literacy levels and socio-demographic determinants of health literacy, which provide with intriguing insights for policy making.
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