The Role of Health Education in North Carolina

Maggie Perkins, RD, LDN – Nutrition Health Educator

National Health Education Week: Past, Present and Future. October 19-23, 2015 #nhew2015

National Health Education Week (NHEW) highlights public health issues and promotes consumers’ understanding of the role of health education. NHEW is sponsored by the Society of Public Health Education (SOPHE) and is observed the third full week of October (19th-23rd 2015)1.

In honor of NHEW, let’s examine the health status of North Carolina. According to the United Health Foundation, North Carolina ranks number 37 out of the 50 states in the US for the healthiest state2. The United Health Foundation lists the state’s biggest challenges as:

  • A high percentage of children in poverty. In 2013, 25.1% of children lived in poverty3. Twenty four percent of children in North Carolina were living in households that had food insecurity at some point in the year in 20123.
  • Limited availability of dentists. Seventeen percent of children entering kindergarten in NC have untreated tooth decay4.
  • A high prevalence of type II diabetes. Unfortunately, the number of diabetes will most likely continue to increase because of increased risk factors in our youth. For example, in 2011-2012, 31% of NC teens were overweight or obese3.

North Carolina has its work cut out for it.  Unfortunately, there are also numerous health disparities working against progress. Health disparities are inequalities that exist when members of certain populations have a lower health status than other groups5.  For example, one third of North Carolinians have low health literacy (ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information). The lowest rates of health literacy are those with lower education levels, racial/ethnic minorities, the uninsured and publicly insured, and the elderly6. One initiative to improve health literacy and the overall health of our state is to provide health education to all children and adults in North Carolina.

The American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Heart Association advocate for health education in school systems, as they can improve the well-being and health of the state’s youth. Through promoting healthy behaviors, such as participating in physical activity, eating healthy, and avoiding tobacco use, health education can reduce the risks for chronic disease. Research studies have shown that promoting healthy behaviors for younger people is far more effective than efforts to change established, unhealthy behaviors in adults7.

That’s where the Poe Center comes in.  The Poe Center’s mission is to educate and empower North Carolina children, youth and their families to make choices that increase positive health behaviors. The vision is that all North Carolina children and youth become healthy adults. The Poe Center’s health educators offer over 50 programs addressing:

90% of students who attend programs from the Poe Center demonstrate retained information six weeks after participation. Booking a program with the Poe Center will educate the communities with whom you work to live healthier, happier lives. Education is the first step in addressing the health challenges faced in NC.

The Poe Center receives funding from grants, corporate sponsors, and private donors to keep costs low so that everyone has access to health education.  Support the Poe Center this National Health Education Week by signing up to volunteer or making a donation. The Poe Center could not provide health education to North Carolinians without the support of the community!