In 2015, 10% of the population in Switzerland had excellent and 36% adequate health literacy. More than half of the Swiss population had problematic or insufficient health literacy.

This indicator is part of the Monitoring System Addiction and NCD (MonAM) of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

Health literacy is the ability of individuals to make everyday decisions that have a positive effect on their health. Health literacy goes beyond knowledge about health and includes how people understand and make use of health information. From a health promotion viewpoint, health literacy can also contribute to people living healthily, enabling them to put in place and to realise their own ideas about health. Health literacy can therefore be seen as a resource for increasing equal opportunities in society and improving people’s participation in the system or at least making it possible. Health literacy is also a factor determining the utilization of health services. For reasons of health economics, health policy makers have been paying more attention to health literacy in recent years. An important objective of the “Health 2020” strategy is to reinforce health literacy.

The indicator on health literacy provides important information on the ability of the population to deal with health information.


The indicator is based on the study by Bieri et al. commissioned by the Federal Office of Public Health. Data come from a representative poll from this study to ascertain health literacy.

Health literacy is recorded on the basis of the health literacy questionnaire developed by Sorensen et al. (2013) and consisting of 47 questions. The purpose of this measuring tool is to identify problems people may have in dealing with information on health as well as describing the different levels of health literacy within the population. To do this, four skills (finding, understanding, assessing and applying) are recognised in relation to three areas of health: health promotion, disease prevention and coping with illness.

For each of the 47 questions there are five answer categories: “On a scale of very easy to very difficult, how would you rank the following tasks: very difficult, difficult, easy, very easy, don’t know”. The questions are then pooled together in the health literacy index. For an international comparison of health literacy, see Bieri et al. (2016).


  • Bieri, U. et al. (2016). Bevölkerungsbefragung «Erhebung Gesundheitskompetenz 2015». Bern: gfs.bern: Studie im Auftrag des Bundesamtes für Gesundheit (BAG) (Study in German; Summary in French).

Further information

  • Sorensen, K. et al. on behalf of the HLS-EU Consortium (2013). Health literacy in Europe: Measuring health literacy in populations: illuminating the design and development process of the European Health Literacy Survey Questionnaie (HLS-EU-Q). BMC Public Health. 13, 948. 

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