Health Education is a sequential classroom-based instructional program that teaches and assesses functional health knowledge, basic health concepts, and essential life skills. It addresses physical, mental, emotional, and social dimensions of health. In order to promote health and avoid or reduce health risks, students should demonstrate and apply responsible decision-making strategies that lead to overall well being. (8)
Health education content areas
typically include: community health,
consumer health, environmental
health, family life, mental and
emotional health, injury prevention
and safety, nutrition, personal
health, prevention and control
of disease, and substance use
or abuse. The National Health
Education Standards emphasize core concepts and skills that align
with these content areas. The standards include understanding health promotion and disease prevention concepts, internal and external influences on health behaviors, accessing health information and services,
interpersonal communication, decision-making, goal setting, and advocacy skills. (9, 10)
When schools provide students with a purposeful and
relevant health education instructional program, the
students gain essential knowledge and skills to make
health-promoting decisions as well as the strategies to
practice daily health behaviors. Therefore, school health education becomes the cornerstone for promoting immediate and lifelong healthy behaviors.
Studies show that health education can result in improved nutritional choices, delay of sexual debut, lower rates of alcohol and other drug use, enhanced stress management, or reduced bullying behaviors. These results give reason to believe that students who choose healthful behaviors and avoid harmful ones make better grades, achieve more in school, and are less likely to drop out. For example, according to the CDC-DASH 2009 National Youth Risk Behavior Study, there is a strong correlation between involvement in health risk behaviors and grades. The less likely the involvement in health risk behaviors,
the higher the grades, and vice versa. (3)
Windham High School in Windham, Maine, has a full-year graduation requirement for health education and physical education. In addition, students can choose electives in both disciplines to round out their high school experience.
Students enrolled in Positive Action, an elementary-age social and emotional learning curriculum with brief lessons on responsible selfmanagement, relationship skills, and making healthy choices, were found to improve their standardized
test scores. A three-year study of 20 ethnically and economically diverse schools in Hawaii reported participants outperformed the control group by 8.8% in reading and 9.8% in math on such tests, had 70% fewer suspensions, and a 15% lower absentee rate. (13)
National Health Education Standards
The National Health Education Standards are written expectations for what students should know and be able to do to promote personal, family, and community health. Benchmarks are set for grades 2, 5, 8, and 12. The standards can provide a framework for curriculum development and selection, instruction, and assessment. (9, 10)
The 2007 National Health Education Standards recommend that students Pre-K–2 receive a minimum of 40 hours, and students grades 3–12 receive a minimum of 80 hours of health education instruction per academic year. (9)
Effective health education aligns with national and/or state standards for instruction; has an established Pre-K–high school curriculum with a scope and sequence; is taught by trained health education teachers; and occurs in an organized and structured classroom environment. (9)
Curriculum Analysis Tool
The Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (HECAT) is recommended for conducting an analysis of a school or
district’s health education curricula. It can be accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/hecat/index.htm. Assessment
A continuum of student assessment allows for formative and summative evaluation of functional health knowledge,
essential health skills, and application of core health concepts to real-world scenarios at every grade and cognitive level of learning. (9)
Family and Community Linkages
Extension opportunities engage students in conversations about health with their parents or guardians and empower them to become advocates for health within their homes, schools, and communities. (9)
BIBLIOGRAPHY (selected references)
1. Allensworth D, Wyche J, Lawson E, Nicholson L, eds. Committee on
Comprehensive School Health Programs, Division of Health Science Policy,
Institute of Medicine. Defining a comprehensive school health program: An
interim statement. National Academy Press: Washington, DC, 1995.
2. American Cancer Society, American Diabetic Association, American Heart
Association, Health Education in Schools: The Importance of Establishing
Healthy Behaviors in our Nation’s Youth (joint statement). Health Educator.
3. CDC, Division of Adolescent School Health. Available for download
at: http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2007/oct/07_0063.htm. Accessed
November 15, 2010
4. Freudenberg N, Ruglis J. Reframing school dropout as a public health
issue. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2007; 4(4): A107.
5. Hawkins D, Catalano R, Kosterman R, Abbott R, Hill K. Preventing
Adolescent Health Risk Behaviors by Strengthening Protection During
Childhood. Arch Pediatric Adolescent Medicine. 1999; 3: 226-234.
6. Muenning P, Woolf SH. Health and economic benefits of reducing the
number of students per classroom in US primary schools. American
Journal of Public Health. 2007; 97: 2020–2027.
7. Murray NG, Low BJ, Hollis C, Cross AW, Davis SM. Coordinated school
health programs and academic achievement: A systematic review of the
literature. Journal of School Health. 2007; 77(9): 589–600.
8. National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy.
9. National Health Education Standards, Second Edition. Achieving
10. National Middle School Association. Small schools and small learning
communities: Position statement of the National Forum to Accelerate
Middle Grades Reform. 2004.
11. National School Boards Association. School Health: Helping Children to
12. Snyder FJ, et al. Impact of a Social-Emotional and Character Development
Program on Academic Achievement, Absenteeism, and Disciplinary
Outcomes. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness. 2010; 3(1):
13. US Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy Youth: An
Investment in Our Nation’s Future, 2007. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, CDC, Coordinating Center for Health
14. US Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2010:
Understanding and Improving Health, 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Washington, DC:
Government Printing Office, 2000.
15. Zins JE, Weissberg RP, Wang MC, Walberg HJ. Building Academic
Success on Social and Emotional Learning: What Does the Research Say?
Teachers College Press, 2004.