African Americans living in low socioeconomic circumstances are at high risk of poor health outcomes; this is particularly true for those with hypertension. Many African Americans with chronic hypertension living in the rural impoverished Southeastern USA have low health literacy and are socially isolated. These factors are known to have a negative impact on health outcomes, but it is possible that social support may overcome some of the effect of low health literacy. Since little has been reported about this association, we examined the association between social functioning and health literacy in a rural African American population in the Southeast USA. We used baseline data from participants in the Southeastern Collaboration to Improve Blood Pressure Control, a pragmatic trial that recruited rural African Americans with persistently uncontrolled hypertension and collected survey data. Overall, 33.5% of the 1221 person sample reported social isolation, 26.0% reported low instrumental support, 36.0% reported low emotional support, and 63.4% had inadequate health literacy. All three domains of low social functioning were significantly associated with low health literacy, and this effect was robust to multivariable adjustment for sociodemographics and cognitive functioning for social isolation (adjusted odds ratio 1.62, 95% confidence intervals 1.20–2.20). In conclusion, the majority of this sample living in the NC and AL Black Belt had high social functioning but inadequate health literacy. Tests of interventions to improve social support, especially social isolation, may be warranted to overcome low health literacy in this high-risk rural population.

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