Background: School health education can effectively help reduce the prevalence of health-risk behaviors among students and have a positive influence on students’ academic performance. This article describes the characteristics of school health education policies and programs in the United States at the state, district, school, and classroom levels.
Methods: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts the School Health Policies and Programs Study every 6 years. In 2006, computer-assisted telephone interviews or self-administered mail questionnaires were completed by state education agency personnel in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and among a nationally representative sample of districts (n = 459). Computer-assisted personal interviews were conducted with personnel in a nationally representative sample of elementary, middle, and high schools (n = 920) and with a nationally representative sample of teachers of classes covering required health instruction in elementary schools and required health education courses in middle and high schools (n = 912).
Results: Most states and districts had adopted a policy stating that schools will teach at least 1 of the 14 health topics, and nearly all schools required students to receive instruction on at least 1 of these topics. However, only 6.4% of elementary schools, 20.6% of middle schools, and 35.8% of high schools required instruction on all 14 topics. In support of schools, most states and districts offered staff development for those who teach health education, although the percentage of teachers of required health instruction receiving staff development was low.
Conclusions: Health education has the potential to help students maintain and improve their health, prevent disease, and reduce health-related risk behaviors. However, despite signs of progress, this potential is not being fully realized, particularly at the school level.