• A recognized ‘paradigm war’ exists between the two distinct approaches of health education and health promotion practice. This tension is both unhealthy and unhelpful and is known to have a profound effect on nursing activity.
• Leading health promotionalists have begun to acknowledge the futility of the stated paradigm tension, realizing that health education and health promotion interventions are not that dissimilar in their origins and intentions. Progressive health education and health promotion programmes acknowledge the interrelatedness of both approaches and seek to incorporate favourable aspects of the two.
• The aim of this article is to present arguments and stances that help to diffuse/avoid the stated paradigm conflict, as a basis for health education and health promotion reform in nursing. It also seeks to clarify the nature of both health education and health promotion practice so as to avoid contextual confusion. In doing so, this article draws significantly from the author's previous work.
• This article concludes that the constructive review of any intended health education/health promotion programme lies in the consideration of each approach according to its own relative merits, what is required of the programme, and the nature of the setting in which the intervention takes place.