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What is Health Education?

Health education is the profession of educating people about health. Areas within this profession encompass environmental health, physical health, social health, emotional health, intellectual health, and spiritual health. It can be defined as the principle by which individuals and groups of people learn to behave in a manner conducive to the promotion, maintenance, or restoration of health. However, as there are multiple definitions of health, there are also multiple definitions of health education. The Joint Committee on Health Education and Promotion Terminology of 2001 defined Health Education as "any combination of planned learning experiences based on sound theories that provide individuals, groups, and communities the opportunity to acquire information and the skills needed to make quality health decisions."  The World Health Organization defined Health Education as comprising of consciously constructed opportunities for learning involving some form of communication designed to improve health literacy, including improving knowledge, and developing life skills which are conducive to individual and community health.

The Role of the Health Educator

From the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, the aim of public health was controlling the harm from infectious diseases, which were largely under control by the 1950s. By the mid 1970s it was clear that reducing illness, death, and rising health care costs could best be achieved through a focus on health promotion and disease prevention. At the heart of the new approach was the role of a health educator  A health educator is “a professionally prepared individual who serves in a variety of roles and is specifically trained to use appropriate educational strategies and methods to facilitate the development of policies, procedures, interventions, and systems conducive to the health of individuals, groups, and communities. In January 1978 the Role Delineation Project was put into place, in order to define the basic roles and responsibilities for the health educator. The result was a Framework for the Development of Competency-Based Curricula for Entry Level Health Educators (NCHEC, 1985). A second result was a revised version of A Competency-Based Framework for the Professional Development of Certified Health Education Specialists (NCHEC,1996). These documents outlined the seven areas of responsibilities which are shown below.

Responsibility I: Assessing Individual and Community Needs for Health Education
* Provides the foundation for program planning
* Determines what health problems might exist in any given group
* Includes determination of community resources available to address the problem
* Community Empowerment encourages the population to take ownership of their health problems
* Includes careful data collection and analysis
Responsibility II: Plan Health Education Strategies, Interventions, and Programs
* Actions are based on the needs assessment done for the community (see Responsibility I)
* Involves the development of goals and objectives which are specific and measurable
* Interventions are developed that will meet the goals and objectives
* According to Rule of Sufficiency, strategies are implemented which are sufficiently
robust, effective enough, and have a reasonable chance of meeting stated objectives
Responsibility III: Implement Health Education Strategies, Interventions, and Programs
* Implementation is based on a thorough understanding of the priority population
* Utilize a wide range of educational methods and techniques
Responsibility IV: Conduct Evaluation and Research Related to Health Education
* Depending on the setting, utilize tests, surveys, observations, tracking epidemiological
data, or other methods of data collection
* Health Educators make use of research to improve their practice
Responsibility V: Administer Health Education Strategies, Interventions, and Programs
* Administration is generally a function of the more experienced practitioner
* Involves facilitating cooperation among personnel, both within and between programs
Responsibility VI: Serve as a Health Education Resource Person
* Involves skills to access needed resources, and establish effective consultive relationships
Responsibility VII: Communicate and Advocate for Health and Health Education
* Translates scientific language into understandable information
* Address diverse audience in diverse settings
* Formulates and support rules, policies and legislation
* Advocate for the profession of health education

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