Defining health education and

The terms health education and health promotion are
often used interchangeably, but health promotion is
much broader in concept and can be seen as an umbrella
term of which health education is an integral part.
What is health education?
The WHO defines health education as ‘the planned and
managed process of investing in education to achieve
improvement in health of a population’. The Scientific
Basis of Oral Health Education
(Levine and Stillman-Lowe,
2004) has a useful adaptation of the definition from the
WHO, which states that ‘health education is the process
by which people are given information to enable them
to exercise a greater degree of control over their own
136 Clinical Textbook of Dental Hygiene and Therapy
Health education can be broken down into a series of
Understanding the basic cause of disease.
Identifying essential causative factors.
Agreeing scientifically based and socially acceptable
messages for the public aimed at encouraging beneficial
behavioural changes.
Communicating: ensuring that key information is
conveyed comprehensibly to the right target audience,
in the right context and at the right time.
Health education has often been seen as one-to-one
programmes limited to providing information. It has
been described as working with people to give them
knowledge to improve their own health and working
towards individual attitude and behaviour change. But
can we be sure that knowledge alone will change
behaviour? There are many examples of health professionals
not following their own advice!
Wider issues have therefore been brought in to expand
beyond patient education, for example:
Political action to change social policies.
Putting employee health on the agenda of employers.
Engaging in community development work for health.
Health education is seen as an important element in
health promotion.