Image of a woman in an orange dress holding a document

The Best Grade Level & Fonts for Readability to Optimize Nutrition Education Resources

Here are the top two things you need to know when creating nutrition education materials that meet your client’s needs: 1) correct grade reading level and 2) simple fonts for readability.

Picture this.

You are with your client in a session. They ask you to share information about an anti-inflammatory diet to help them reduce chronic pain.

Because of your educational background and enthusiasm for this topic, you begin sharing very technical information about this topic. You also notice your patient’s eyebrows begin to furrow – showing confusion.

Why is Accessibility to Nutrition Information so Important?

The session above is a perfect example of a client being ready to hear information, but the terms used to share the information are too complex (or not accessible) to them.

If your client does not understand what you are sharing, they will not be able to make lifestyle changes – even if change is a priority.

Did you know that patient education materials play a vital role in healthcare? They help our clients better understand their health while making more informed decisions.

Why is grade reading level and font choice so important?

It is all about making your information accessible.

By keeping your language clear, concise, easy to understand and read, you are ensuring that everyone, regardless of their educational background, can access the important health information you are sharing.  

What Grade Reading Level is Best for Patient Education Materials?

The American Medical Association (AMA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), state patient education materials should ideally be written at a reading level between 6th and 8th grade (1).

Why this range, you ask?

The average adult reads at the 8th or 9th grade reading level. Twenty percent of the population read at or below the 5th grade reading level (2).

According to Silva et al, if we provide “people with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to make informed food choices and to access, prepare, and cook nutritious meals, we can help to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequities” (3).

How to Check the Reading Level of Patient Education Materials

In a Word Document

Once you have your handout information outlined in your Word document:

Image of the Word "Editor" button
  1. Look for the “Editor” button in the upper right corner.
  2. Click on the “Editor” button
  3. Scroll down through the menu on the right until you see “Insights”
  4. Click on “Document Stats”
  5. A box will appear
  6. Click ok.
  7. A new box will appear.
  8. Look for the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
    1. Shoot to create materials between 6th and 8th grade (or lower).

Using the Hemmingway Editor App

If you prefer to use the Hemmingway Editor App, visit the site here: https://hemingwayapp.com/

  1. You can write your text directly into the “Write” tab of the app or you can copy and paste your text from another document.
  2. Once you are ready to have the text reviewed, you can click on the “Edit” tab to collect the document readability stats.
Image of the Hemmingway Editor App Stats Report

Remember, the goal is to create nutrition education materials that are between 6th or 8th grade reading level.

For a video snap shot of each process above, check out this YouTube video.

Recommendations for readability in education materials.

Simple Fonts for Readability

Another key point to ensure your materials are accessible is to focus on simple fonts for readability. To be accessible, the American Disabilities Act encourages using easily read fonts, such as Sans Serif and Serif.

Defining Terms:

  • Serif
    • Serif fonts include fancy tails or feet on the letters. These fonts can be used in headings or to highlight something important. They are not recommended for the body of the document because they can be harder to read for those with lower vision (4) .
  • Sans Serif
    • Sans Serif fonts do not have fancy tails or feet, which make them easier to read. These font types are encouraged to be used in the body of your text.

The Best Serif Fonts for Readability

Serif fonts, when used, are best for headings vs. the body of your text. Below are five examples of Serif fonts.

Times New Roman

Image of Times New Roman

Garamond

Image of Garamond font

Palatino

Image of Palatino font

Georgia

Image of Georgia font

Cambria

Image of Cambria font

The Best San Serif Fonts for Readability

San Serif fonts do not have tails and feet. They are recommended to be used on the body of your text to increase accessibility because they are easy to read. These fonts are displayed in a 20 pt size font.

Arial

Image of Arial font

Helvetica

Image of Helvetica font

Verdana

Image of Verdana font

Calibri

Image of Calibri font

Open Sans

Image of Open Sans font

Final Thoughts on Grade Reading Level and Fonts for Readability

Your clients will love your nutrition education materials if you follow these simple steps:

  1. Use the “Editor” option in Word or the Hemingway Editor app to check your document grade reading level.
  2. Focus on improving accessibility by creating materials with a 6th to 8th grade reading level.
  3. Choose fonts that are easy to read.
    1. Serif fonts are best for headings or to show importance.
    1. Sans serif fonts are best for the body of your document.

The next time you’re developing patient resources, remember: simplicity is key to improving accessibility!

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More About Rochelle

Rochelle Inwood MS, RDN, ACSM EP-C

Hello there! I’m Rochelle Inwood, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Exercise Physiologist (ACSM EP-C). With over 14 years of experience, I have sharpened my expertise through diverse roles, including weight management program co-coordinator, patient/employee gym supervisor, outpatient dietitian, program manager, dietetic internship preceptor, and more. I am passionate about learning, creating, teaching, and supporting personal growth and development.