Health Policy Reform and Comprehensive Health Education: The Need for an Effective Partnership

By Brindis, Claire | Journal of School Health, January 1993 | Go to article overview

Health Policy Reform and Comprehensive Health Education: The Need for an Effective Partnership


Brindis, Claire, Journal of School Health


Clearly, no knowledge is more crucial than knowledge about health. Without it, no other life goal can be successfully achieved. Therefore, we recommend that all students study health, learning about the human body, how it changes over the life cycle, what nourishes it and diminishes it, and how a healthy body contributes to emotional well being.|1~

Health education as defined by the National Professional School Health Education Organizations(2) includes: 1) a planned, sequential, pre-kindergarten to grade 12 curriculum based on students' needs and current health concepts and societal issues, 2) instruction intended to motivate health maintenance and promote wellness and not merely to prevent disease, 3) activities to develop decision-making skills and individual responsibility for one's health, 4) opportunities for students to develop and demonstrate health-related knowledge, attitudes, and practices, 5) integration of the physical, mental, emotional, and social dimensions of health as the basis for study of the 10 content areas: community health, consumer health, environmental health, family life, growth and development, nutritional health, personal health, prevention and control of disease, safety and accident prevention, and substance use and abuse, and 6) the use of program planning, including formative and summative evaluation procedures, an effective management system, and resources.

Some evidence(3) supports the effectiveness of this approach. A survey of 4,738 third through 12th grade students in 199 public schools revealed that as years of health instruction increased, students' health-related knowledge, positive attitudes, and healthy habits increased. For example, 43% of students with one year of health instruction drank alcohol "sometimes or more often," compared with 33% of students with three years of health instruction. In addition, 13% with one year of health instruction had taken drugs compared with 6% for those with three years of health instruction. Only 72% of those with one year of health instruction exercised outside of school compared with 80% of those with three years of health instruction.|3~

Nonetheless, many believe health education has not reached its potential.|4-8~ If factors documented as effective were employed, health education would more consistently achieve its goal of "enhancing the health, health attitudes and practices, and health-related skills of all children and youth."|4~

School-based health education is evolving|9,10~ due to several factors: 1) traditional health education has not fulfilled its mission of facilitating adoption of health-enhancing behaviors,|4-8~ 2) children and youth face a number of serious health problems,|11-15~ 3) behavioral scientists from various disciplines are reaching a consensus about what works to prevent high-risk behaviors,|5,9,15-18~ and 4) policymakers, administrators, and other educators are asking for a "new kind of health education -- a sophisticated, multifaceted program that extends years beyond present lectures about personal hygiene or the four basic food groups."|19~ This paper, which identifies 11 practices that contribute to making health education the "sophisticated, multifaceted program" requested by the National Association of State Boards of Education and the American Medical Association,|19~ builds on the work of others who have identified these practices which are characteristic of the "new kind of health education."|20,21~

Focus On The Priority Behaviors That Most Influence Health

In 1979, the US Public Health Service|22~ identified the degree to which four major factors contributed to premature illness and death: heredity (20%), environment (20%), health care delivery system (10%), and an unhealthy lifestyle (50%). Though school health education cannot change the influence of heredity, the concept of heredity as a major determinant of longevity proves useful in explaining why certain individuals who adopt a health-debilitating lifestyle do not experience disease. …

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Health Policy Reform and Comprehensive Health Education: The Need for an Effective Partnership
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