News about health research findings, especially regarding controversial topics, can seem confusing and conflicting to students and the general public. Many people eventually develop a “turned-off” attitude toward all health news. Yet medical information is one of the key factors involved in health decisionmaking, because it influences a person's judgment about the potential health impact of a behavior choice.
As part of their health education, youngsters need to learn skills to better understand and evaluate reports of research news, so the information available for health decision-making will be more complete and accurate. Such news is already abundant in television, radio, newspaper and magazine reports and will continue to increase as research advances, knowledge expands and health “facts” are revised.
This article outlines concepts and skills to help teachers and students understand the changes and controversies in health news. To most effectively use new information generated by medical research, students need to: 1) understand basic concepts about the nature of research and the research process; 2) apply critical thinking approaches to health news; and 3) locate additional health information resources. Generating ways to address these needs is a high priority of the school health education work at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Comments are invited on this approach.