What is Health Education? – Purpose and Importance


What is Health Education? – Purpose and Importance

Health education is a profession of educating people about health. Areas within this profession encompass environmental health, physical health, social health, emotional health, intellectual health, and spiritual health, as well as sexual and reproductive health education.

Health education can be seen as the principle by which individuals and groups of people learn to behave in a manner conducive to the promotion, maintenance, or restoration of health.

However, as there are multiple definitions of health, there are also multiple definitions of health education.

In the U.S., the Joint Committee on Health Education and Promotion Terminology of 2001 defined Health Education as any combination of planned learning experiences based on sound theories that provide individuals, groups, and communities the opportunity to acquire information and the skills needed to make quality health decisions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) distinct Health Education as consisting of consciously constructed opportunities for learning involving some form of communication designed to improve health literacy, including improving knowledge, and developing life skills which are conducive to individual and community health.

In knowing the history of health education, It might be surprising to some to learn that the origins of health education came from the ancient Greeks in the 6th - 4th centuries B.C.E. Documents have been found that prove they moved away from supernatural and superstitious views of health and toward natural causes of diseases. They wrote about fighting illness and maintaining good health being related to physical health, social environments, and human behavior.

The Greeks had the goal of empowering individuals and communities through health education and skill development identifying supportive environments and policies to encourage taking medicine and maintaining healthy habits.

In the United States, health education started with private businesses rather than the government. After a hookworm epidemic in 1917, the Rockefeller Foundation pushed for professionals who could dedicate their lives to public health and teaching about proper sanitation to prevent illnesses.

The founding of the President's Committee on Health Education in the 1970s started the modern roots of health education. This was a project championed and started by President Richard Nixon, recognizing health educators as a profession for the first time.

This was followed by the opening of the National Center for Health Education in 1975 and the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education in 1980.

Today there are more than 250 academic programs to prepare health educators. This includes bachelors, masters, and doctoral-level degrees in the field.

In this article you will know about what Health is Education? Purpose and Importance.


What is Health Education?

Health education is a social science that draws from the biological, environmental, psychological, physical and medical sciences to promote health and prevent disease, disability and premature death through education-driven voluntary behavior change activities.

Health education is the development of individual, group, institutional, community and systemic strategies to improve health knowledge, attitudes, skills and behavior.

The purpose of health education is to positively influence the health behavior of individuals and communities as well as the living and working conditions that influence their health.

Health education can be seen as the principle by which individuals and groups of people learn to behave in a manner conducive to the promotion, maintenance, or restoration of health. However, as there are multiple definitions of health, there are also multiple definitions of health education.

Health education is can be also as the set of philosophies and methodologies that educate the general public, healthcare practitioners, and communities about anything related to health. It draws from disciplines that include biology, environmental science, ecology, psychology, physical science, and medical science.

It is used to promote good health as well as prevent disease, disability, and early death. Health education encourages voluntary behavioral changes and positive influences. It can happen at the individual, group, institutional, community, or systemic level. It attempts to address attitudes, behaviors, and skills that can improve wellness.


Purpose of Health Education

Health education combines and integrates knowledge from many different scientific disciplines. It encourages positive attitudes toward healthy choices and changes. It provides the skills and knowledge to form lifelong habits.

Health education is about more than just improving the life or health of one person. If one person changes their habit those around them are likely to observe and possibly improve their health. 

Parents can teach their children healthy habits to prevent future illnesses. If an individual is healthier, they save money on health care, have better work habits, and spend money throughout the economy on aspects such as entertainment, travel, lifestyle, and other needs, rather than health costs on preventable illnesses and diseases. If a family is healthier, they have the same benefits as individuals. The kids can attend school regularly; they can spend money on toys and activities that might otherwise be spent at hospitals or on medication.

At the community level, this can reduce the burden on doctors, clinics, hospitals, and workplaces. The cost of illness is high both financially and in terms of human resources. A shortage of doctors, nurses, and other specialists is less likely among a generally healthy population. These concepts scale up to the state, national, and world levels.

Preventing premature deaths, avoiding preventable illnesses and diseases, and maintaining a healthy population is a benefit to all levels of society.

Health promotion and disease prevention programs focus on keeping people healthy. Health promotion programs aim to engage and empower individuals and communities to choose healthy behaviors, and make changes that reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases and other morbidities. 

Defined by the World Health Organization, health promotion: “enables people to increase control over their own health. It covers a wide range of social and environmental interventions that are designed to benefit and protect individual people’s health and quality of life by addressing and preventing the root causes of ill health, not just focusing on treatment and cure.”

Disease prevention differs from health promotion because it focuses on specific efforts aimed at reducing the development and severity of chronic diseases and other morbidities. Wellness is related to health promotion and disease prevention.

Wellness is described as the attitudes and active decisions made by an individual that contribute to positive health behaviors and outcomes.

Health promotion and disease prevention programs often address social determinants of health, which influence modifiable risk behaviors.

Social determinants of health are the economic, social, cultural, and political conditions, in which people are born, grow, and live that affect health status.

Modifiable risk behaviors include, for example, tobacco use, poor eating habits, and lack of physical activity, which contribute to the development of chronic disease.

Typical activities for health promotion, disease prevention, and wellness programs include:

· Communication: Raising awareness about healthy behaviors for the general public. Examples of communication strategies include public service announcements, health fairs, mass media campaigns, and newsletters.

· Education: Empowering behavior change and actions through increased knowledge. Examples of health education strategies include courses, trainings, and support groups.

·  Policy, Systems, and Environment: Making systematic changes – through improved laws, rules, and regulations (policy), functional organizational components (systems), and economic, social, or physical environment – to encourage, make available, and enable healthy choices.


Why is Health Education Important?

• Health education improves the health status of individuals, families, communities, states, and the nation.

• Health education enhances the quality of life for all people.

• Health education reduces premature deaths.

• By focusing on prevention, health education reduces the costs (both financial and human) that individuals, employers, families, insurance companies, medical facilities, communities, the state and the nation would spend on medical treatment.


Often Asked Questions on Health Education 

Who Provides Health Education?

• Some people specialize in health education (trained and/or certified health education specialists). Others perform selected health education functions as part of what they consider their primary responsibility (medical treatment, nursing, social work, physical therapy, oral hygiene, etc.). Lay workers learn on the job to do specific, limited educational tasks to encourage healthy behavior.

• Para-professionals and health professionals from other disciplines are not familiar with the specialized body of health education knowledge, skills, theories, and research, nor is it their primary interest or professional development focus. This will limit their effectiveness with clients and communities, and their cost-effectiveness.

• Health education requires intensive specialized study. Over 250 colleges and universities in the US offer undergraduate and graduate (Masters and Doctorate) degrees in school or community health education, health promotion and other related titles.

• Nationally, voluntary credentialing as a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) is available from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc (NCHEC).

• CHES competencies (health education needs assessment; program planning, implementation and evaluation; service coordination; and Health Education needs, concerns, resource communication) are generic to the practice of health education, whether it takes place in schools, colleges, workplaces, medical care settings, public health settings or other educational settings of the community. CHES are re-certified every five years based on documentation of participation in 75 hours of approved continuing education activities.

What is Health Education and Why is it Important?

Health education is giving people the skills, tools, and knowledge to live healthier. It has been proven to reduce early death, preventable diseases, and it is cheaper than treating the illnesses it prevents.


What are Examples of Health Education?

Health education is everything from signs reminding someone to wash hands in the bathroom to courses on advanced nutrition. It can happen at the personal level or the community level. It can be in advertising and workplace incentive programs.


What is the Main Purpose of Health Education?

The main purpose of health education is to teach people how to make healthier choices. This could happen at the individual level through the societal level. It offers the skills, training, and knowledge to decrease illness and preventable diseases.


Where is Health Educators Employed?

• In schools health educators teach health as a subject and promote and implement Coordinated School Health Programs, including health services, student, staff and parent health education, and promote healthy school environments and school-community partnerships. At the school district level they develop education methods and materials; coordinate, promote, and evaluate programs; and write funding proposals.

• Working on a college/university campus, health educators are part of a team working to create an environment in which students feel empowered to make healthy choices and create a caring community. They identify needs; advocate and do community organizing; teach whole courses or individual classes; develop mass media campaigns; and train peer educators, counselors, and/or advocates. They address issues related to disease prevention; consumer, environmental, emotional, sexual health; first aid, safety and disaster preparedness; substance abuse prevention; human growth and development; and nutrition and eating issues. They may manage grants and conduct research.

• In companies, health educators perform or coordinate employee counseling as well as education services, employee health risk appraisals, and health screenings. They design, promote, lead and/or evaluate programs about weight control, hypertension, nutrition, substance abuse prevention, physical fitness, stress management and smoking cessation; develop educational materials; and write grants for money to support these projects. They help companies meet occupational health and safety regulations, work with the media, and identify community health resources for employees.

• In health care settings health educators educate patients about medical procedures, operations, services and therapeutic regimens, create activities and incentives to encourage use of services by high risk patients; conduct staff training and consult with other health care providers about behavioral, cultural or social barriers to health; promote self-care; develop activities to improve patient participation on clinical processes; educate individuals to protect, promote or maintain their health and reduce risky behaviors; make appropriate community-based referrals, and write grants.

• In community organizations and government agencies health educators help a community identify its needs, draw upon its problem-solving abilities and mobilize its resources to develop, promote, implement and evaluate strategies to improve its own health status. Health educators do community organizing and outreach, grant writing, coalition building, advocacy and develop, produce, and evaluate mass media health campaigns.


What does a Trained Health Educator Do?

·  Advocate for health related issues

·  Assess individual and community needs

·  Build coalitions

·  Conduct research

·  Coordinate health education programs

·  Develop audio, visual, print and electronic materials

·  Develop health education programs

·  Develop social marketing and mass media campaigns

·  Encourage healthy behavior

·  Evaluate health education programs

·  Handle controversial health issues/content

·  Identify resources

·  Implement health education programs

·  Make referrals

·  Manage health education programs & personnel

·  Organize/ mobilize communities for action

·  Plan health education programs

·  Use a variety of education/training methods

·  Write grants

·  Write scholarly articles

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