OBJECTIVE - To assess parental health literacy and numeracy skills in understanding instructions for caring for young children, and to develop and validate a new parental health literacy scale, the Parental Health Literacy Activities Test (PHLAT).
METHODS - Caregivers of infants (age <13 months) were recruited in a cross-sectional study at pediatric clinics at 3 academic medical centers. Literacy and numeracy skills were assessed with previously validated instruments. Parental health literacy was assessed with the new 20-item PHLAT. Psychometric analyses were performed to assess item characteristics and to generate a shortened, 10-item version (PHLAT-10).
RESULTS - A total of 182 caregivers were recruited. Although 99% had adequate literacy skills, only 17% had better than ninth-grade numeracy skills. Mean score on the PHLAT was 68% (standard deviation 18); for example, only 47% of caregivers could correctly describe how to mix infant formula from concentrate, and only 69% could interpret a digital thermometer to determine whether an infant had a fever. Higher performance on the PHLAT was significantly correlated (P < .001) with education, literacy skill, and numeracy level (r = 0.29, 0.38, and 0.55 respectively). Caregivers with higher PHLAT scores were also more likely to interpret age recommendations for cold medications correctly (odds ratio 1.6, 95% confidence interval 1.02, 2.6). Internal reliability on the PHLAT was good (Kuder-Richardson coefficient of reliability = 0.76). The PHLAT-10 also demonstrated good validity and reliability.
CONCLUSIONS - Many parents do not understand common health information required to care for their infants. The PHLAT and PHLAT-10 have good reliability and validity and may be useful tools for identifying parents who need better communication of health-related instructions.
Copyright 2010 Academic Pediatric Association. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.