Public Health Education- More than the dreaded middle school health class

“Health education is any combination of learning experiences designed to help individuals and communities improve their healthy, by increasing their knowledge of influencing their attitudes.” –World Health Organization


When I hear “Health Education”, the first thing that comes to mind is the incredibly awkward, dreaded middle school health class. I flash back to the beginning days of primary school sexual education topics and health preaches about sunscreen use. As I ventured from three years of nursing school to a program of Health Advocacy, my views of health education changed drastically. Health Advocacy consists of the disciplines of bioscience, psychosocial science, social work, nursing and health education. The history of academia has proven to be focused in creating single disciplines and specialized individuals. The discipline of Public Health Education is a discipline of it’s own, but also an interdisciplinary field of study. Education can make people healthier. Public Health Education uses evidence based, ontological information to advocate for and implement change in the health literacy ability of the public.

The history of public health education extends to the beginning of the 1900s and reaches farther than the preaching of safe sex. Practicing physicians were held responsible for advising the public on epidemic disease, but their work became spread too thin in times of crisis. The Rockefeller Sanitary Commission discovered there needed to be dedicated health officers to educate the public about hookworm as the problem spanned far than the abilities of physicians. An attempt to enlist public health officers did not turn out like they planned because what ever works perfectly the first time? Founder of the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission Wickliffe Rose understood in order for action and reaction to take place, there needed to be a new profession devoted to controlling disease and promoting health. Result of the innovative thinking established the encompassing content, methodology, and epistemology of health education:

            “It was decided that there were essentially three categories of public health officers: those with executive authority such as city and state health commissioners; the technical experts in specific fields such as bacteriologists, statisticians, and engineers; and the field workers such as local health officials, factory and food inspectors, and public health nurses.”

In 1918, Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health became the first school of public health. By 1938, the program had taken off in full swing with more than 4,000 people were receiving

Photo Credit- clio1789 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

public health funding for their education provided by the government. The interest and enrollment in public health education continued to rise through the rest of history and grew into 32 accredited school’s public health.


Plymouth State University offers a degree in Health Education and Promotion with a goal of creating well-qualified health educators who understand human behavior and how to lead people to healthier lives. Over my career at Plymouth State University I have taken courses in health education to enrich my Health Advocacy program. The goal of these courses is to enrich learning in illness, wellness, prevention education, interventions, nutrition, biomedical science, and health literacy. These courses include;

  • Principles of Health, Health Promotion
  • Planning & Evaluation, Sex and Family Living Education
  • Disease, Safety & the Environment
  • Applied Nutrition for Healthy Living.

Creating a foundation in health literacy with the ability to vocalize health and wellness to the public is extremely valuable for health educators. The foundational knowledge of health education is beneficial to not only health educators, but also Health Advocates and Patient Advocates.

As the discipline of Health Education is vast in areas of study, the influential leaders are not hard to find. Two of my favorite health education and advocacy leaders/organizations to follow on Twitter are The Gates Foundation and Family Planning 2020. Both with goals and dedication to family planning, women’s rights, and empowering the girls of the future through healthy living. Leading health education organizations that provide phenomenal resources and research include SOPHE- The Society of Public Health Education, The American Public Health Association, and SHAPE America- Society of Health and Physical Education. There are multiple annual conferences held by leading health education organizations; all of which I hope to attend one day. The National Network of Public Health Institutes, The Health, Wellness & Society, and The Society for Public Health Education are three that I feel look very beneficial to my career path in Health Advocacy.

Meme curiosity of author!


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  1. I absolutely loved reading the history in this post. So interesting about hookworm and such. Dr. Noel in the History Dept at PSU writes and lectures about the history of health education sometimes, and it’s fascinating to me. Great post– I learned a lot.

  2. I chose this post as one of my five posts from my assigned column for our Intro course! I really liked this post because you gave different perspectives on health education and how people perceive it. Health education is a big part of my program and I have similar views of the discipline. Your inclusion of hyperlinks and photos made the post easier to read and more exciting!

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