The Importance of Health Education
When it comes to building a healthy community, the importance of health education cannot be overlooked. Community health workers collaborate with all stakeholders in a community - from its citizens to its government, education and medical officials - to improve health and wellness and ensure equal access to healthcare.
Why is Health Education Important?
Community health education looks at the health of a community as a whole, seeking to identify health issues and trends within a population and work with stakeholders to find solutions to these concerns.
The importance of health education impacts many areas of wellness within a community, including:
- Chronic disease awareness and prevention
- Injury and violence prevention
- Maternal and infant health
- Mental and behavioral health
- Nutrition, exercise and obesity prevention
- Tobacco use and substance abuse
Community health educators work with public health departments, schools, government offices and even local nonprofits to design educational programs and other resources to address a community’s specific needs.
"As public health professionals, with aid of community leaders, we strive to ensure community wellness as it pertains to health education, said Tanyi Obenson, public health clinical faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). "A healthier community is a better community”
In addition to providing educational resources and programming to a community, public health educators also work to ensure all members of a community have equal access to wellness resources and healthcare services.
"When considering care access and delivery within communities, health equity and social justice are one in the same. The social determinants of health classify the various ways in which an individual’s identity characteristics and social positions are woven into a fabric of discrimination," said Dr. Natalie Rahming, a healthcare adjunct faculty member at SNHU. "They demonstrate how racism, socioeconomic status, gender, and rural/urban conditions have persistently manifested into unequal distribution of care across distinct groups over many generations."
According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), common health disparities affecting Americans include:
- Gender health disparities
- Racial or ethnic health disparities
- Rural health disparities
- Socioeconomic health disparities
"A community health worker seeks to abolish or ameliorate health inequity from a social lens, whereas other health care workers approach it at an individual perspective," said Rahming. "Both are critical for healthcare advancement."
Community Health Education and Government Policy
The importance of health education also extends into policy and legislation development at a local, state and national level, informing and influencing key decisions that impact community health.
From campaigns and legislation to enforce seat belt use and prevent smoking to programs that boost the awareness and prevention of diabetes, public health workers provide research and guidance to inform policy development.
"In alignment to work on policy, community health leaders are needed to support the community with prevention strategies, interventions and programs designed to improve disparities of care based on social, economic, and environmental factors,” said Dr. Toni Clayton, executive director of health professions at SNHU. "The collaboration of community leaders is essential to form a shared commitment and results-oriented approach to improving the health of our most vulnerable populations.”
The Economic Importance of Health Education
Health education can also boost a community’s economy by reducing healthcare spending and lost productivity due to preventable illness.
Obesity and tobacco use, for example, cost the United States billions of dollars each year in healthcare costs and lost productivity.
According to the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity (NCCOR), the annual loss in economic productivity due to obesity and related issues is expected to total as much as $580 billion by 2030 (NCCOR PDF source). The total economic cost of tobacco use costs the United States more than $300 billion each year, including $156 billion in lost productivity, according to the CDC.
Programs designed to help community members combat these expensive health issues not only boost individuals’ health but also provide a strong return on investment for communities.
According to the CDC, states with strong tobacco control programs see a $55 return on every $1 investment, mostly from avoiding costs to treat smoking-related illness. The national cost of offering the National Diabetes Prevention Program is about $500 per participant, significantly lower than the $9,600 spent on diabetes care per Type 2 diabetes patient each year.
How to Become a Community Healthcare Worker
A community healthcare worker's goal is to help others, starting with education.
To begin your career in community healthcare, you'll typically need a minimum of a high school diploma or associate degree. The work done within public health and community healthcare differs from other healthcare fields and impacts communities in different ways requiring different training and understanding of healthcare.
"Unlike individual healthcare delivery, public health investigates the systems and trends that impact behaviors and outcomes within a community collectively," said Rahming. "This research facilitates the identification of needs and provision of tools to promote disease prevention, individual empowerment, and improved wellness that enhances the quality of life for all."
Earning your bachelor's degree in public health or community health will help you advance your career and better understand your work. On top of your classroom education, many community health care workers are required to complete on-the-job training. According to BLS, training often covers communication, outreach, and information based upon your specific community health focus.
Public Health Education: A Growing Field
As the health, social and economic impacts of community health education continue to grow, so does the field of public health and health promotion.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in the community health education field is projected to grow by 17% through 2030, more than twice the average for all occupations.
Workers with a community health education degree can find opportunities in a wide variety of settings, according to the BLS, including:
- Government organizations and public health departments
- Hospitals and healthcare facilities
- Nonprofit organizations
- Private businesses and employee wellness programs
- Schools and colleges
As communities continue to focus more on improving the health and wellness of its citizens, the field of community health education will also continue to grow, said SNHU adjunct faculty Michelle Gifford.
“I believe that more and more communities are seeing benefits from wellness-related initiatives and receiving positive marks about them, hence community leaders are seeing this as not just a business-driven necessity, but also something that impacts the well being and quality of life of their citizens,” Gifford said.
Discover more about SNHU’s bachelor's in community health: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you’ll learn and how to request information about the program.
Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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About Southern New Hampshire University
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