Objective: To examine health literacy in a rural community by measuring the understanding of the preventable nature of six major health conditions. Design: Cross-sectional population survey. Setting: New housing areas of Strathfieldsaye, Victoria. Participants: A total of 197 adults aged 18 years or older. Main outcome measures: Perceived preventability of skin cancer, lung cancer, cervical cancer, high blood pressure, heart attack and diabetes. Results: Skin cancer was the only condition which most people perceived as being all or mostly preventable (50.3 ). Lung cancer was perceived to be all or mostly preventable by 35.5 of respondents, high blood pressure by 34.0 , cervical cancer by 27.4 , diabetes by 25.4 and heart attack by only 14.7 . Conclusions: This study shows that there is a lack of understanding of the preventability of these health conditions. Efforts need to be directed towards improving the public s knowledge of disease prevention and to ensure that health promotion programs reach populations with the most need.