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Health Education in the 21st Century: A Skills-based Approach

Sarah Benes, Holly Alperin

joperd cover september 2019

Health and academics are undeniably connected. Healthier students are ready and able to learn at higher levels than their unhealthier peers, students who have higher levels of academic achievement are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, and individuals who attain higher levels of education, particularly in successful school environments, experience positive health outcomes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2017; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS], 2010; Winkleman, Caldwell, Bertram, & Davis, 2016; Wong et al., 2014 ). In addition, students with more health assets are more likely to experience success on standardized tests in multiple subject areas, including math, reading and writing (Ickovics et al., 2014). The evidence is clear; when the health of students is addressed, their academic achievement is supported and vice versa.

However, despite this evidence, it has not been until recently that the education world has begun to address both the health and academic outcomes of students. In 2013 the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model was published. WSCC combines and expands on ASCD’s Whole Child model and the Coordinated School Health approach to “create a unified model that supports a systematic, integrated, and collaborative approach to health and learning” (Lewallen, Hunt, Potts-Datema, Zaza, & Giles, 2015, p. 730). The model provides a framework for shared decision-making between the health and education sectors as the goals of both sectors are now represented in this combined model, and when implemented effectively, can support both educational attainment and healthy development of students (Lewallen at al., 2015).

This article is written for practitioners who have, or are planning to have, dedicated time for health education within their curriculum. The goal is to provide a foundational understanding of the importance of health education and the use of a skills-based approach to teach health education. We provide examples, where possible, to help illustrate the concepts presented in this article and strategies for implementation. In order to implement effective skills-based health education, practitioners need to know both the “why” and the “how”; both are presented here.

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