The Science Journal of the American Association for Respiratory Care

2007 OPEN FORUM Abstracts


T. Walsh1, T. Volsko1

Background: A substantial amount of consumer health-related information is available on the World Wide Web. Studies suggest consumer comprehension may be compromised if the content exceeds a seventh grade reading level, the average American reading level identified by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS). The objective of this study was to determine the readability characteristics of internet based consumer health care information offered by organizations representing the top 5 medical related deaths in American. We hypothesize that the average reading level of internet based consumer health information related to heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes exceeds a seventh grade reading level.

Methods: The official websites of the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and American Diabetes Association were accessed to obtain health-related articles designed for non-healthcare professionals. Consumer health information articles were randomly gathered from each of the aforementioned websites. Each article’s readability level was assessed using three different tools; the SMOG Readability Formula, the Gunning-FOG index and the Flesh-Kincaid Grade Level Test. Data were entered into SPSS 9.0 for windows for analysis. Mean readability scores and standard deviations were reported for each health related category. These scores were categorized in accordance with standards set by the USDHHS which are “easy to read” (below sixth grade level), “average difficulty” (between seventh and ninth grade), and “difficult” (above ninth grade).

A total of 100 articles were randomly accessed and evaluated for readability. All articles assessed exceeded the seventh grade reading level and were categorized as “difficult.” The consumer health information available on the American Lung Association website scored at the lowest literacy level for each of the assessment tools. Mean readability scores for each tool in the aforementioned health-related categories are listed in the table below.

Conclusions: It is essential for consumer information to be written in at the recommended reading level to ensure information is successfully communicated.

  Mean Readability Score (+ SD)
Health CategoryNSMOGFlesch-KincaidGunning-FOG
Heart Disease 20 12.50 (1.88) 10.05 (2.24) 13.10 (3.42)
Cancer 20 12.65 (2.08) 10.45 (1.43) 13.50 (3.05)
Stroke 20 13.95 (1.61) 11.20 (1.11) 15.75 (2.95)
COPD 20 11.80 (2.44) 9.85 (2.25) 13.95 (4.30)
Diabetes 20 14.40 (1.47) 11.55 (0.76) 16.05 (2.31)

You are here: » Past OPEN FORUM Abstracts » 2007 Abstracts »