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School-based Health Education Research: Charting the Course for the Future

Sarah Benes, Kelly M. Boyd, Irene Cucina, and Holly L. Alperin

rqes cover March 2021

The value of school-based health education has been recognized for decades (Creswell, Hastings, & Huffman, 1966; Institute of Medicine, 1997; Marx, Wooley, Northrop, & Wooley, 1998; World Health Organization [WHO], 2003). Recent initiatives at the national level, including Healthy People 2020, SHAPE America 50 Million Strong by 2029 and the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model (WSCC), call for a focus on health education as a strategy to enhance population health (Lewallen, Hunt, Potts-Datema, Zaza, & Giles, 2015; SHAPE America, 2015a).

An understanding of the term “school-based health education” is critical for both contextualizing and utilizing the information presented in this article. School-based health education is an academic subject and is a critical component of a well-rounded education (Every Student Succeeds Act [ESSA] 2016). The National Health Education Standards (NHES) recommend a minimum of 40 hours of instruction in health education each year in grades preK-2 and 80 hours per year in grades 3–12 (Joint Committee, 2007).

Health education is based on theory and research and should integrate behavior change principles (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2015; Cottrell, Girvan, Seabert, Spear, & McKenzie, 2018; Glanz, Rimer, & Lewis, 2015). Behavior change takes time and must be sustained over many years to be the most effective (CDC, 2015). Effective health education is taught by a licensed, trained health educator who utilizes participatory teaching methods that are culturally inclusive, age, and developmentally appropriate and that engage students in the learning process (CDC, 2015; Institute of Medicine, 1997; Joint Committee, 2007; Nobiling & Lyde, 2015; SHAPE America, 2015b; WHO, 2003). Health education should be offered preK-12 with opportunities for health education every year of schooling and adequate instructional time (CDC, 2015). Additionally, the information in health education should be narrow in focus, functional, and included for the purpose of skill development and behavior maintenance or behavior change.

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