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The effects of poor literacy on an individual can be wide-reaching as well as deep: we’ve covered quite a bit of ground in recent articles, from gender-related effects to prison sentences. A recent article on the BBC outlined the potential that poor literacy has to kill:

One loose definition of “basic literacy” often used is “the ability to read direction labels on medicine bottles”. Recent statistics from the UK show that 1 in 6 people have a below basic literacy, with numbers in the US around 1 in 5.*

Studies that show these kinds of results often use them to galvanize public debate about our educational systems.

But what about the implications for barely literate adults who have already passed through the school system?

With advancing age, and no literacy interventions, adults with poor reading skills are in a potentially fatal position of not being able to understand written prescriptions or medical advice. They may fail to receive verbal instructions from their doctor about a certain medication, or may forget the details – unable to write them down.

Even ‘mild’ over-the-counter medications can become toxic if taken incorrectly. Tylenol, or acetaminophen, has limits on the timing and amount of dosage which, if exceeded, can cause serious damage. Stronger medications can kill if taken incorrectly.

In addition to close examination of how we deal with learning difficulties in children, we need to make sure that adults with reading problems are adequately helped, especially in the area of health advice.

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Sarah Forrest is a Program Coach for the Easyread System, an online phonics course that helps children with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder or highly visual learning styles get support for spelling and reading problems. Find out more at or on Facebook at