Chapter One

The Scope of Health Behavior and Health Education

The Editors


  • Where professionals once might have seen their roles as working at a particular level of intervention (such as changing organizational or individual health behaviors) or employing a specific type of behavior change strategy (such as group interventions or individual counseling), we now realize that multiple interventions at multiple levels are often needed to initiate and sustain behavior change effectively.
  • And where health education and behavior change professionals once might have relied on intuition, experience, and their knowledge of the literature, increasingly we expect professionals to act on the basis of evidence.
  • A premise of Health Behavior and Health Education is that a dynamic exchange among theory, research, and practice is most likely to produce effective health education.
  • The editors believe fundamentally that theory and practice should coexist in a healthy dialectic, not as dichotomies. The best theory is likely to be grounded in lessons from practice. The best practice should be grounded in theory.

Broad Definitions

Health Education:

Includes instructional activities and other strategies to change individual health behavior, as well as organizational efforts, policy directives, economic supports, environmental activities, mass media, and community-level programs.

Health Behavior:

In the broadest sense, health behavior refers to the actions of individuals, groups, and organizations, as well as their determinants, correlates, and consequences, including social change, policy development and implementation, improved coping skills, and enhanced quality of life (Parkerson and others, 1993).

Settings & Audiences for Health Education

Seven major settings are particularly relevant to contemporary health education:

  1. Schools
  2. Communities
  3. Worksites
  4. Health care settings
  5. Homes
  6. The consumer marketplace
  7. The communications environment
  • For health education to be effective, it should be designed with an understanding of recipients, target audiences, health and social characteristics, beliefs, attitudes, values, skills, and past behaviors.
  • These audiences consist of people who may be reached as individuals, in groups, through organizations, as communities or sociopolitical entities, or through some combination of these.
  • They may be health professionals, clients, people at risk for disease, or patients.
  • There are four dimensions along which the potential audiences can be characterized:
    1. sociodemographic characteristics
    2. ethnic or racial background
    3. life cycle stage
    4. disease or at-risk status