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Health Education Programs: Laws, Policies & Ethics

Instructor: Veronika Polozkova

Masters in International Health. Lesson development experience on different levels from basic alimentary school to academic master level. Languages: English, Dutch, Russian

Successful health education programs should result in knowledgeable and skilled health professionals and an informed public. Learn about the standards required for successful health education.

Health Education

Health education is any combination of learning experiences designed to help individuals and communities improve their health by increasing their knowledge or influencing their attitudes. Health education can happen on any level and in many formats. It starts in preschools, where kids can learn about things like hygiene by playing games. It continues throughout school with things like biology lessons and, for some who choose health as a profession, formal health education can be life long.

But actually, all people receive continued health education throughout their whole lives. Besides educational institutions that teach health, health education is everywhere around us - at your doctor's office, on television, in newspapers, in the supermarket, drugstores and many other places.

Health education is very important because it contributes a lot to a population's health and to the reduction of diseases. If everyone had the knowledge to recognize disease transmission and causes easily, we would all be much healthier. Also, if health professionals received as much theoretical and practical education as possible, they could function even more effectively. This is why governments and unions set standards and regulations for health education.

Health Education Policies and Regulations

Health education regulations and policies are developed by governments and unions. They outline major objectives, goals, standards and requirements for parties that facilitate health education. These can be teachers, community leaders, health workers and even individuals who deliver training in health. These policies are needed to maintain the quality of education and specify which parties have to deliver heath education and to what extent.

A good example of a health education regulation is the National Health Education Standards (NHES), which was designed in 1995 to establish, promote and support health behaviors for students from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 in the United States. These standards have been updated since then and are meant to guide teachers in curriculum development and delivery of training.

A good example of a union that is concerned with quality of health education is SHAPE (the Society of Health and Physical Educators). SHAPE is a union of health educators that was founded in 1885. It does much work for professional development and advocacy to support health and physical educators. It also provides guidelines and frameworks to help teachers educate and organizes its own events and advocacy campaigns to raise awareness for the need of appropriate health education.

Because health education is a complex issue that engages multiple sectors and involves human rights, it is important to have good governmental policies, strong unions, committed teachers and resources in place.

Ethics in Health Education

Besides regulations and standards that have to be taken into account when considering health education, ethics also play an important role. Health professionals and teachers face ethical dilemmas when delivering health-related information. The following cases can appear in practice, leaving education facilitators with difficult ethical questions:

  • At what age is it appropriate to discuss reproductive health with children and what sensitive issues like cultural, geographical and religious factors have to be taken into account?
  • A parent of my 15 year old female patient forbids me to provide sexual education to my patient, which is his right as a parent. But I know that my patient has been having a sexual life for a year now and I am obliged to educate her to prevent health harm. What do I do?

Health practitioners and teachers deal with these ethical questions every day. Standard, protocols and policies that are meant to guide educators through such situations are very important.

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