Academic journal article Journal of Education and Learning

Health Curriculum Policy Analysis as a Catalyst for Educational Change in Canada

Academic journal article Journal of Education and Learning

Health Curriculum Policy Analysis as a Catalyst for Educational Change in Canada

Article excerpt


Health curriculum policy development in Canada is a provincial and territorial responsibility that addresses the national agenda of health promotion. Each curriculum policy reflects philosophies about health. This study investigates the health education models found in the research literature and compares them with those used in Health curriculum policies for Grades 4-9 across Canada using a policy analysis framework developed by the authors. This study is also intended to establish the degree of curriculum coherence (Beane, 1995) and knowledge mobilization (Levin, 2008) around health priorities for children and adolescents. Findings show inconsistencies among policies and between philosophies and student outcomes. The most common policy model is that of interactive level of health literacy, positing students as informed recipients of health care and responsible decision makers. This analysis is offered as a catalyst for national dialogue on health education policy coherence.

Keywords: critical health literacy, health curriculum, democratic education

1. Introduction

Current health discourse often centres on the obesity crisis (Wright, 2009) and draws a simplistic equation between health and weight. In this equation, weight is seen both as a determinant of health, as well as its outcome. A new report on obesity by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) takes a more complex view however, acknowledging an association between obesity and health but clarifying that it is neither simple nor direct and also that there are multiple factors linked to obesity (PHAC, 2011a, p.27). Some factors that can be managed or acted upon are classified as proximal or immediate, such as physical activity and diet while others are considered to be distal factors, such as community, socioeconomics, and the environment.

An earlier PHAC report (2003) provides evidence that there are many determinants of health-not just diet and exercise. PHAC identifies ten key determinants of health: income and social status; social support networks; education and literacy; employment/working conditions; social and physical environments; personal health practices/coping skills; healthy child development; biology/genetic endowment; health services; gender, and culture. Often these broader determinants of health are ignored in a dominant global discourse claiming that health is threatened by an obesity epidemic (Wright, 2009). This focus on the individual's responsibility has become a driving force behind imperatives for food and exercise regulation in schools. Rich (2011) finds that many surveillance practices have emerged in British schools as a result of this moral discourse, such as snack regulation, lunch box inspections, and measuring of activity and weight. She raises concerns about the emergence of "a new right ideology" (p.68) based on a mediated thin ideal. Good health has come to represent good virtue (Rich, Holroyd & Evans, 2004). Rich concludes that students' current understandings of health are "overwhelmingly" becoming anchored in the global imperatives that equate weight with health rather than the recognition of multiple determinants. Similarly Fullagar (2002) poses the same question in Australia where she argues that a significant shiftin Australian health policy is occurring where leisure and recreation have been co-opted to the moral imperative for exercise, instead of recognizing them as individual choice and enjoyable. Rich (2011) asks an important question, "Which health knowledge is worth knowing?" (p.70).

The health knowledge that is deemed to be "worth knowing" in Canada is reflected in the health education policies of the thirteen distinct provinces and territories. These health policies are not neutral but are represent the decisions of different governments about "what is worth knowing" in health curriculum policies. Fowler reminds us that, "Public policy is the dynamic and value laden process through which a political system handles a public problem" (2004, p. …

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