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Most adults need help understanding health care instructions, according to a new report from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES). Researchers administered a series of health literacy tests to about 19,000 people age 16 and older. Using the scores, researchers divided people into four categories of health literacy: below basic, basic, intermediate, and proficient. Only 12% were proficient.


The best possible score was 500 points. Women averaged 248 points, and men averaged 242 points. Adults age 65 and older had lower health literacy than younger adults.


Researchers say that many health-related instructions are written at a level that's above the average consumer's literacy level and contain too much medical jargon. A simple example is a food label listing "sodium," which could confuse a consumer looking for salt content.


Find the report, titled "The Health Literacy of America's Adults: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy," on the NCES Web site at

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