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Is Health Education A Missed Opportunity?

As I look back on health classes I took in elementary and junior high school, I wonder if they were a missed opportunity with too much sex and drugs, and not enough health.

That was my experience, anyway. (I went to school in New Hampshire, but I bet Connecticut public school health classes aren’t much different.)

Although the traditional health class topics are important, there is a lot more to health than that. Here are just a few topics that might benefit students – and the rest of us.

First aid: Offering CPR certification and other first aid credentials to students would have widespread benefits. Learning how to care for themselves and each other might come in handy in a pinch. Plus, students might better understand risks they take when they understand first aid. There’s no reason to leave this to the Boy Scouts.

How to use a doctor: It would be great if doctors visited health classes to talk about what happens at a health physical, what different specialties mean, how to talk to a doctor or ask questions, how to prepare for an appointment, etc. I am sure a doctor could come up with plenty of material for a 50-minute class. A health class could, without much imagination, easily have one guest speaker a week (primary care doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, nurse, ER doctor, neurologist, cardiologist…) In addition to the knowledge these professionals can impart, their visits can plant the seeds of future careers.

Field trips: What does your local hospital look like? For that matter, where is it? A simple trip to the hospital could answer these questions, while showing students the mechanics of health care in their community. A day away from the classroom might make a necessary trip to the hospital easier in the future.

Nutrition: I have to admit, other than sex and drugs, nutrition was the most thoroughly studied health topic that I remember from school. It is clearly important given the prevalence of obesity. A recent New York Times op-ed suggested using home economics classes to empower students to cook – and eat – healthier.

Common health problems: Students should learn about colds, the flu, blisters, canker sores and other common ailments they either already have experienced or, if not, almost certainly will. One of the most important things they can learn is when they need to tell their parents or a doctor about a problem. Unlike a biology or anatomy class, health education should be practical and directly relevant.

Sleep: Many high school and college students underestimate the value of sleep. While learning about sleep students can keep a dream diary. Some education about the purpose of sleep, how to sleep better and common sleeping problems might help students stay awake for the rest of their classes.

Public health: The common sense aspects of public health can be addressed without getting too academic. There is a network effect to vaccinations that can be shown with a simple diagram. I am sure students are interested in learning why they should stay home from school when they are sick. Some might even use public health concepts in explaining to their parents why they should stay home.

I don’t think these topics are necessarily the best ones, but they might have more value than yet another lesson on sex and drugs. Professionals who treat young people probably have some great ideas about what students should learn in school.

What health topics do you think schools should teach?

Image credit: iStock Photos

Health Justice CT provides a public forum for conversations, ideas and collective action. The opinion expressed on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of HealthJusticeCT or our funder. 

About Zachary Janowski

Zachary Janowski is an investigative reporter for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, Connecticut’s free-market think tank, and a 2012 Phillips Foundation Robert Novak Journalism Fellow writing about government’s contribution to the rising cost of healthcare. Learn more about Zachary here.

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