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Educational and Community-Based Programs

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Goal

Increase the quality, availability, and effectiveness of educational and community-based programs designed to prevent disease and injury, improve health, and enhance quality of life.

Overview

Educational and community-based programs play a key role in:

  • Preventing disease and injury.
  • Improving health.
  • Enhancing quality of life.

Health status and related health behaviors are determined by influences at multiple levels: personal, organizational/institutional, environmental, and policy. Because significant and dynamic interrelationships exist among these different levels of health determinants, educational and community-based programs are most likely to succeed in improving health and wellness when they address influences at all levels and in a variety of environments/settings.

Why Are Educational and Community-Based Programs Important?

Educational and community-based programs and strategies played an important role in reaching Healthy People 2010 objectives. Over the next decade, they will continue to contribute to the improvement of health outcomes in the United States.

Education and community-based programs and strategies are designed to reach people outside of traditional health care settings. These settings may include:

  • Schools
  • Worksites
  • Health care facilities
  • Communities

Each setting provides opportunities to reach people using existing social structures. This maximizes impact and reduces the time and resources necessary for program development. People often have high levels of contact with these settings, both directly and indirectly. Programs that combine multiple—if not all 4—settings can have a greater impact than programs using only 1 setting. While populations reached will sometimes overlap, people who are not accessible in 1 setting may be in another.1

Using nontraditional settings can help encourage informal information sharing within communities through peer social interaction. Reaching out to people in different settings also allows for greater tailoring of health information and education.

Educational and community-based programs encourage and enhance health and wellness by educating communities on topics such as:

  • Chronic diseases
  • Injury and violence prevention
  • Mental illness/behavioral health
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Oral health
  • Tobacco use
  • Substance abuse
  • Nutrition and obesity prevention
  • Physical activity

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Understanding Educational and Community-Based Programs

Health and quality of life rely on many community systems and factors, not simply on a well-functioning health and medical care system. Making changes within existing systems, such as improving school health programs and policies, can effectively improve the health of many in the community.

For a community to improve its health, its members must often change aspects of the physical, social, organizational, and even political environments in order to eliminate or reduce factors that contribute to health problems or to introduce new elements that promote better health. Changes might include:

  • Instituting new programs, policies, and practices.
  • Changing aspects of the physical or organizational infrastructure.
  • Changing community attitudes, beliefs, or social norms.2

In cases where community health promotion activities are initiated by a health department or organization, organizers have a responsibility to engage the community. Realizing the vision of healthy people in healthy communities is possible only if the community, in its full cultural, social, and economic diversity, is an authentic partner in changing the conditions for health.2

Emerging Issues in Educational and Community-Based Programs

Three emerging public health issues in the area of educational and community-based programs have been identified.

  1. Evaluating coordinated school health programs as an intervention to reduce school dropout rates. Coordinated school health programs include:
    • Comprehensive school health education
    • Health services
    • Physical education
    • Nutrition services
    • Mental health and social services
    • Staff wellness
    • Family/community involvement
    • A healthy and safe environment
  2. Establishing an evidence base for community health and education policy interventions to determine their impact and effectiveness.
  3. Increasing the number and skill level of community health and other auxiliary public health workers to support the achievement of healthier communities.

These issues are important to the field of public health and warrant further research, analysis, and monitoring to fully understand their effects on educational and community-based programs.

References

1Gamm L, Castillo G, Williams L. Education and community-based programs in rural areas: A literature review. In: Rural Healthy People 2010: A companion document to Healthy People 2010, Volume 3. Gamm L, Hutchison L, editors. College Station, TX: The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center, School of Rural Public Health, Southwest Rural Health Research Center; 2004. p.167-86. Available from: http://www.srph.tamhsc.edu/centers/rhp2010/Volume_3/Vol3Ch4LR.pdf [PDF - 81 KB] External Web Site Policy

2Institute of Medicine. The future of the public’s health in the 21st century. Washington: National Academies Press; 2003.

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