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Appl Health Econ Health Policy. 2009;7(1):11-7. doi: 10.2165/00148365-200907010-00002.

Health-promoting schools: evidence for a holistic approach to promoting health and improving health literacy.

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Centre for Health Education and Health Promotion, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong.


Chronic diseases are now the major causes of death and disability worldwide, and non-communicable diseases (NCD) account for the majority of the global health burden. About half of premature deaths are related to health-risking behaviours that are often established during youth and extend to adulthood. While these diseases might not be curable, they are preventable. Prevention is possible when sustained actions are directed at individuals and families, as well as at the broader social, economic and cultural determinants of NCD. A 'life-course' approach to promoting healthy behaviour should begin early in life. The aim of this article is to discuss the impact of the 'health-promoting school' (HPS) on improvements in youth health. HPS can be described as a holistic, whole-school approach in which a broad health education curriculum is supported by the environment and ethos of the school. HPS moves beyond individual behavioural change to consider organizational and policy change such as improving the physical and social environment of the school, as well as its curricula and teaching and learning methods. A positive culture for health would facilitate higher levels of health literacy by helping individuals tackle the determinants of health better as they build the personal, cognitive and social skills for maintaining good health. There is reasonable evidence to demonstrate that the whole-school approach using the HPS framework is effective in improving health, ranging from physical activities and healthy eating to emotional health. Schools adopting the HPS framework have demonstrated changes in culture and organizational practice to become more conducive to health improvement. These schools were reported to have better school health policies, higher degrees of community participation, and a more hygienic environment than non-HPS schools, and students in these schools had a more positive health behaviour profile. Health promotion and disease prevention is essential to reduce the healthcare burden of children and adolescents. HPS would help to combat the global burden of childhood obesity by promoting healthy eating behaviours and encouraging higher levels of physical activity. There are gaps in service provision for children and adolescents from both the health and education perspective; the HPS framework has the potential to develop a mechanism of closer integration with the primary healthcare system, making youth health services more school based and student centred. A new model of interconnection between HPS and different components of primary healthcare can be evolved to make services for disease prevention and health promotion more student friendly.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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