Issue: Health education is not mandatory in U.S schools
Audience: State of Boards of Education members and leaders
We live in a nation where it is normal for high school students to engage in sexual intercourse, even though some don’t know how to correctly use a condom. According to the CDC and the School Health Policies and Practices Study, among U.S. only “39% taught how to correctly use a condom in a required health education course” (CDC). And according to Healthy People 2020 " Almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended" with only 39% of high schools teaching their students how to properly use a condom, it is no wonder why almost half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended.
Hello, my name is Desirae Tainatongo I am a public health promotion major and I am here to say that there needs to be a law that health education be mandatory in every high school in the U.S. I am going to talk about what percent of states have mandatory health education, what high school students are/are not being taught when it comes to health education, reasons why some people do not want health education to be mandatory in school, and statistics about certain health problems that can be decreased with health education.
In all the school years leading up to 12th grade it was only required that I take one health education class for two semesters during my 9th grade year. Even though one year of health education is not enough, I consider myself lucky that one year was required, because compared to many other high schools across the nation one year of health education was more than other students were getting. Of all the high schools in the U.S. in 2006 only “69% required students to receive instruction on health topics as part of a specific course” (CDC). In some states health education is only a one semester course that is mandatory to graduate while other states it is not a mandatory course and therefore is sometimes not taught at all.
When it comes to health education in high school, proper health education is shockingly low. Of the high schools in the U.S. according to the School Health Policies and Programs Study in 2006:
- 87% taught abstinence as the most effective method to avoid pregnancy, HIV, and other STDs in a required health education course.
- 85% taught how HIV is transmitted in a required health education course.
- 53% taught 14 nutrition and dietary behavior topics in a required health education course.
- 38% taught 13 physical activity topics in a required health education course.
- 58% taught methods of contraception in a required health education course.
Many people see other subjects such as math, science, English, and history being superior to health education; however according to the CDC “Schools play a critical role in promoting the health and safety of young people and helping them establish lifelong healthy behaviors. Research also has shown that school health programs can reduce the prevalence of health risk behaviors among young people and have a positive effect on academic performance” (CDC). Such health risks that can be reduced by health education in high schools are obesity, sexual risk behaviors, and substance abuse. To shed more light on some of these health risk behaviors the 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicates that among U.S. high school students:
- 6% had sexual intercourse for the first time before age 13 years.
- 15% had sexual intercourse with four or more persons during their life.
- 40% did not use a condom during last sexual intercourse.
- 16% were never taught in school about AIDS or HIV infection.
- 13% were obese
- 22% drank alcohol or used drugs before last sexual intercourse.
- 2% used a needle to inject any illegal drug into their body one or more times during their life.
Although other school subjects are equally as important, if people in the U.S. want to live long enough to follow their dreams to become a surgeon, an engineer, a psychologist, a teacher, etc. health education should be mandatory so that everyone knows how to properly take care of themselves in order to live a long healthy life. With proper health education being mandatory in high school, students can be educated about such health risk behaviors which can lead to them making smart and healthy choices. When these smart and healthy choices are made, they can greatly lower rates of death, teen pregnancy, STD’s, unintended pregnancies, and obesity; and with all these rates lowered, life expectancy will greatly increase.
I myself am in my junior year in college and a public health promotion major, and I am still learning about health education. I am proof that health education needs to mandatory in high school, because one year in high school of health education and three years in college still is not enough. Let’s have our nation live longer and healthier lives starting with proper mandatory health education in high school. Thank you.
Sources and more information about adolescent health and schools: