Research & Best Practices
The most comprehensive resources in support of health education in K-12 settings come from the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America), the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American School Health Association (ASHA). In addition, a number of state governments and Departments of Education have quality resources and programs highlighted on their websites.
SHAPE America believes the goal of health education should be providing knowledge and skills for students to lead healthy lifestyles, They advocate for a skills-based approach to health education, noting that “health-literate people are able to address their own health needs along with the needs of others. They are able to obtain and apply knowledge and skills to enhance their own health and the health of others — both now and in the future as their needs change throughout their lives.” SHAPE America provides a number of resources in support of skill and habit-development, centered around seven broad categories: (1) analyzing influences; (2) accessing information; (3) interpersonal communication; (4) decision-making; (5) goal-setting; (6) self-management; and (7) advocacy.
The World Health Organization defines skills-based health education as “an approach to creating or maintaining healthy lifestyles and conditions through the development of knowledge, attitudes, and especially skills, using a variety of learning experiences, with an emphasis on participatory methods.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also promotes skill development, noting that curricula emphasizing scientific facts and focused solely on increasing student knowledge does not develop health-literate students. They outline key characteristics of state-of-the art health education curricula and instruction, noting that a growing body of research emphasizing
- Teaching functional health information (essential knowledge)
- Shaping personal values and beliefs that support healthy behaviors
- Shaping group norms that value a healthy lifestyle
- Developing the essential health skills necessary to adopt, practice, and maintain health-enhancing behaviors.
Health literacy encompasses many important topics, some of which may not have been important to students 10-15 years ago, if they were even on our radar. Issues such as school safety, media literacy, sexting, stress/anxiety, vaping, opioid abuse, and concussion awareness/protocols have become increasingly more prevalent in societal conversations and have taken a greater toll on many of our students. Topics such as equity, inclusion, mental health, gender, bullying, and nature or play-based wellness programs are being explored through new lenses. As with other disciplines and courses, we should expect school health instruction and curriculum to meet high standards for academic rigor and relevance to students.
We cannot view health education as the responsibility of only those charged with teaching a health class. Given wellness concerns across the district and our nation, all educators must possess foundational understandings about health education and be prepared to support the development of these skills in students. This is especially important in our high schools, where students will likely take only one semester of health, in addition to two semesters of physical education. The CDC recommends all staff be highly qualified and receive professional development in support of physical and mental health.