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Health promotion and health education: advancing the concepts


  • Dean Whitehead MSc RN

    1. Senior Lecturer, School of Health Sciences, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
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Dean Whitehead,
School of Health Sciences,
College of Humanities and Social Sciences,
Massey University,
Private Bag 11 222,
Palmerston North,
New Zealand.


Background.  Health education and health promotion activities are a fundamental requirement for all health professionals. These two paradigms are closely related but are not inter-dependent. Despite this, it is known that many nurses confuse the terms and use them interchangeably. With this in mind, it is necessary to re-conceptualize the terms in an attempt to bring them to a current form of ‘maturity’.

Aim.  The aim of the paper is to provide an up-to-date analysis of health promotion and health education that serves as a conceptual and operational foundation for clinicians and researchers.

Method.  A concept analysis following the criterion-based methods described by Morse and her colleagues was applied to the terms health education and health promotion, using generic and nursing-related literature.

Results.  The conceptual literature on health education is consistent between generic and nursing-related sources. On the contrary, earlier nursing literature on health promotion is now at odds with more recent socio-political and community action models of health promotion, in that it focuses on individualistic and behavioural forms of ‘health promotion’. A significant proportion of later nursing-related literature, however, suggests a maturing of the concept that brings it further in line with a socio-political health promotion agenda.

Conclusion.  While the theoretical and conceptual literature surrounding health education has remained relatively constant and unchanged over the last decade or so, the same cannot be said for the health promotion literature. The evolving dominance of socio-political action in health promotion has overtaken individualistic and behaviourally-related forms. While the recent nursing literature addresses and acknowledges the place of socio-political activity as the mainstay of health promotion interventions, this is largely from a theoretical stance and is not applied in practice.