Health Promotion for Everyday Practice

As you can see, there are many factors that influence the health and health behaviors of individuals and communities.

There are several models and theories that can be used to better understand and explain health behaviors and influences. The information gathered from these models and theories can better inform and guide the planning, implementation, and effectiveness of interventions aimed at improving health.

Models and Theories

The Rural Health Information Hub (RHIhub) has identified and described five theories and models that most health promotion and disease prevention programs incorporate:

  1. Ecological Models (highlight people's interactions with their physical and sociocultural environments)
  2. Health Belief Model (explains and predicts individual changes in behavior based on individual beliefs)
  3. Social Cognitive Theory (provides opportunities for social support through instilling expectations, self-efficacy, and other reinforcements to achieve behavior change)
  4. Stages of Change/Transtheoretical Model (explains an individual's readiness to change their behavior in six stages - (1) pre-contemplation (2) contemplation (3) preparation (4) action (5) maintenance and (6) termination)
  5. Theory of Reasoned Action/Planned Behavior (suggests a person's health behavior is determined by their intention to perform a behavior with their intention predicted by attitude and subjective norms)

Further information about these five theories and models can be found in Additional Resources (last page of this training).

It is important to note that no one model works for every situation.

More Important Quotes

"The 'art and science' of health promotion is not an either/or situation; it is about both the application of good judgment and the availability of relevant knowledge. Good judgment requires more and varied experience, and the relevant knowledge requires applied research that can be directly transferred into practice."

"A key future challenge for health promotion is to develop a cadre of professionals that are able to bridge the gap between theory and practice, and who are trained in the application of the 'art and science' in a range of contexts, including in fragile populations, and in using new communication technologies."

-- Glenn Laverack, author, "The Challenge of the 'Art and Science' of Health Promotion"

 

Strategies

In addition to models and theories, there are also many strategies that can assist you in integrating health promotion and disease prevention perspectives into everyday practice. Three commonly used strategies outlined by RHIhub are:

1. Health Communication

2. Health Education

3. Policy, Systems, and Environmental Change

1. Health Communication

The CDC defines health communication as the study and use of communication strategies to inform and influence individual decisions that enhance health.

Health communication refers to verbal and written strategies used to influence and empower individuals, populations, and communities to make healthier choices.

Health communication can play a powerful role in working toward health equity. Start by identifying your target population (communities within communities) and tailor communications to their specific needs. Involving members of those communities in the process is also a vital key to success.

Think about an intervention you have been involved with. How did you communicate your message? What did you consider during the planning stages of the intervention?


Common ways to communicate include radio, television, newspapers, flyers, posters, brochures, websites, and social media. Understanding where different members of the community get their information is key (i.e., senior centers, hair salons, Spanish-speaking radio programs).

When planning, be very clear about your communication goal, and be sure you understand your target audience. The information must be relevant and clear to members of your target audience. Make sure they have access to the communication avenues you selected.

Engaging representatives from the target community, or working with coalitions that have representation from the community, to craft the communication plan will increase the chances for success.

 

Two posters - one in english and one in spanish  

2. Health Education

The WHO defines health education as any combination of learning experiences designed to help individuals and communities improve their health, by increasing their knowledge or influencing their attitudes.

Health education activities present information to target populations on particular health topics, including health benefits and threats they may face, and provide participants with tools to build capacity and support behavior change in an appropriate setting. Health education activities include lectures, courses, webinars, workshops, and classes.

The Massachusetts Health Promotion Clearinghouse offers free health promotion materials for Massachusetts residents, health care providers, and social service providers. These free materials, which are offered in multiple languages and address diverse community needs, can be used as a part of your health communication and health education efforts.

3. Policy, Systems, and Environmental Change

In order to maximize health promotion efforts, policies, systems, and environments must be supportive of health. This includes considering the social determinants of health in the target community, and making sure that healthy choices are readily available and accessible in that community.

As an example, the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative developed a conceptual framework that illustrates the connection between social inequalities and health. The framework focuses attention on upstream efforts that address social and institutional inequities and living conditions, rather than downstream ones such as risk behaviors.

 

A public health framework for reducing health inequities
Image courtesy of the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative (BARHII), a coalition of the San Francisco Bay Area's eleven public health departments committed to advancing health equity.

 

In 2014, Massachusetts was the first state to declare opioids a public health emergency. It was declared a nationwide public health emergency in 2017. Think about how you could use the three health promotion strategies to address the opioid epidemic in your community.


Start by gathering data. On mass.gov, you can find current opioid statistics, prescription drop box locations, and information about overdose prevention and Naloxone access. You can also find links to free communication and education materials on opioid overdose prevention, including posters (in multiple languages), magnets, brochures, and fact sheet packets.

Think about the social determinants of health, and how you can adopt policies or make changes to the system or environment. You might offer a needle exchange and/or drug take-back program in your community. You could also deliver overdose prevention training, supply Naloxone, or educate patients, providers, and the general public about the epidemic.

The next section will explain how to get started with your health promotion activities, and how to put your plan into action.