Why study Health Education?

Healthy students are better learners (Michael, 2015). Standards-based Health Education contributes to supporting the whole child as part of a well-rounded educational experience. The goal of Health Education is to develop health-literate individuals by equipping all students with essential skills, knowledge, and attitudes to make health-enhancing decisions and practice healthy behaviors as part of a healthy lifestyle. Health literacy is an individual’s capacity “to access, understand, appraise, apply and advocate for health information and services in order to maintain or enhance one’s own health and the health of others.” (SHAPE, 2018)

Hawaii’s youth face many challenges as they grow up. The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that:

  • 10 percent of Hawaii’s high school students attempted suicide in the past 12 months.
  • 29.5 percent of Hawaii’s high school students felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities in the past 12 months.
  • 42.7 percent of Hawaii’s high school students used a condom during last sexual intercourse (among students who were currently sexually active).
  • 42.3 percent of Hawaii’s high school students ever used electronic vapor products.
  • 14.6 percent of Hawaii’s high school students were electronically bullied in the past 12 months.

Quality health education equips students with the capacity to address their current and future health needs and challenges. Practicing health-enhancing behaviors can contribute to healthy relationships and a positive quality of life by preventing and reducing the risk of disease and injury.

Core Principles of Health Education

Develops Health Literacy Skills

The primary focus of high-quality standards-based health education curriculum, instruction, and assessment are to develop health literacy skills to proficiency within and across grade levels:

  • Advocacy
  • Self-management
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Decision-making
  • Goal-setting
  • Analyzing influences
  • Accessing information, products, and services
Waiakea High's anti-vaping video is a good example of an advocacy campaign assessment.

"The skills of the National Health Education Standards provide the framework for increasing positive health behaviors by teaching skills that are relevant and applicable to daily life" (SHAPE America, 2018).

Students are provided with regular opportunities and time to practice these skills and engage in peer feedback and self-assessment. Student-centered, interactive instructional strategies are utilized to engage students in learning skills within a social context. Examples of participatory methods include role play, large- and small-group discussions, debates, cooperative learning, problem-solving, and simulations (CDC, 2018).

The following model for skill development was developed from the National Health Education Standards and the World Health Organization. Teachers should include all five elements of this model when designing meaningful learning opportunities for students to practice and reinforce health skills.

  1. Discuss the importance of the skill, its relevance, and its relationship to other learned skills.
  2. Present steps for development of the skill.
  3. Model the skill using relevant, real-life scenarios.
  4. Practice the skill using relevant, real-life scenarios.
  5. Provide feedback and reinforcement. (Benes, 2016)

It is critical to ensure that students have a clear understanding of what they are learning and what successful learning looks like throughout their learning experiences. Standards-based assessments for health education provide evidence of students’ current level of performance related to health skill performance and functional knowledge acquisition. Assessments should include scenarios that students might experience in real life (i.e., at home, in school, and in the community). A variety of assessments (e.g., performance task, role play, advocacy campaign, constructed response) may be used to allow all students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do in relation to the HCPS III for Health benchmarks.

Builds Functional Knowledge (Core Concepts)

The health literacy skills of the NHES "provide the framework for increasing positive health behaviors by teaching skills that are relevant and applicable to daily life. These, paired with accurate and developmentally appropriate information, based on student need and derived from local data, provide the context for skill development and the foundation for a comprehensive health education program" (SHAPE, 2018).

Standards-based health education must be age and developmentally appropriate, medically accurate, and provide factual information in all priority risk topics. While the primary focus of health education is the development of health skills, these skills must be addressed in conjunction with functional information in the context of priority risk topic areas:

  • Promoting mental and emotional health
  • Promoting personal health and wellness
  • Promoting healthy eating and physical activity
  • Promoting safety and preventing violence and unintentional injury
  • Promoting tobacco-free lifestyles
  • Promoting alcohol and drug-free lifestyles
  • Promoting sexual health and responsibility

Functional information provides the context in which students learn and apply skills. It is relevant and applicable information that directly contributes to maintaining and enhancing their health and the health of others. This information is utilized to help students develop health skills in class.

When determining functional information that supports skill development, educators may consider asking “What information about this topic do my students need in order to apply the skill being covered effectively?,” and “When my students learn this information, how will they use it to benefit their health or the health of those around them?” (Benes, 2016). As functional information is processed and internalized, it becomes functional knowledge that students can apply in real-life situations.

Nurtures Attitudes that Support Positive Health Behaviors

In addition to developing skills and functional knowledge, students have opportunities to examine their own perspectives, beliefs, and values and engage in learning opportunities that strengthen health-enhancing attitudes about promoting healthy behaviors and preventing and reducing risky behaviors.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is administered in odd-numbered years to Hawai‘i public school students in grades 6–12 to monitor priority behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among youth and young adults (Youth Risk, 2018). Age and developmentally appropriate use of YRBS data within health education classes may be used to build student interest in a health topic, challenge youth perceptions on health behaviors, and support health skill development (e.g., evaluate and analyze health information, advocate for the health of self and others). The YRBS data may also be used to identify key areas of focus for curriculum design and professional development.

Addresses Students’ Needs and Interests

Health education occurs within inclusive and supportive learning environments that foster a culture of learning and address the diverse learning needs of all students. A respectful and caring learning environment allows students to feel safe to share and reflect on their perspectives, interact with others, take risks to enhance their learning, and ask sensitive questions.

Teachers utilize instructional materials, strategies, and assessments that are appropriate for students’ age; social, emotional, mental, physical, and academic development needs; and culturally responsive and inclusive. Learning experiences should be designed to encourage students to share their thoughts and opinions, develop critical thinking skills, and engage in creative expression (CDC, 2018).

Where is Health Education headed?

Health Education in HIDOE is defined by the Hawaiʻi Content and Performance Standards (HCPS) III for Health K-12, and aligned to the National Health Education Standards (NHES). Since the adoption of HCPS III, the Joint Committee on National Health Education Standards revised the NHES and released the National Health Education Standards: Achieving Excellence, 2nd Edition in 2007. The national standards are used by CDC and SHAPE America, and many publishers develop their resources, tools, and instructional materials to address NHES, 2nd Edition. The Department is moving toward the adoption of NHES to better support teachers and students in developing health literacy skills, knowledge, and attitudes.

Health Education resources

Board of Education policies, HIDOE guidelines

Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment


Benes, S., & Alperin, H. (2016). The essentials of teaching health education: Curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. (August 4, 2018). Characteristics of effective health education curricula. Retrieved from
Joint Committee on National Health Education Standards. (2007). National health education standards: Achieving excellence (2nd ed.). Athens, GA: The American Cancer Society.
Michael, S. L., Merlo, C. L., Basch, C. E., Wentzel, K. R., & Wechsler, H. (2015, October 6). Critical connections: health and academics. Journal of School Health, 85(11), 740-758. Retrieved from
Society of Health and Physical Educators [SHAPE] America. (2018). Health education is a critical component of a well-rounded education [Position statement]. Reston, VA: Author. Retrieved from
Society of Health and Physical Educators [SHAPE] America. (2018, July 19). What is health literacy? Retrieved from
Youth risk behavior survey reports. (2018, July 19). Retrieved from