The last time you sat down at a doctor’s office, you may have noticed a set of flyers sitting at the back. Offering information on a range of medical issues, such as infant support, vaccinations, information on quitting smoking, and how to stay healthy, these brightly coloured flyers form one part of health education.
Whether you’re working in the sector, completing a Graduate Certificate in Public Health, or a related qualification, you may want to deepen your understanding of why health education is critical to public health strategies. In this piece, we’ll discover how the diversity of communities presents a range of unique opportunities for health education to reach out in varied and diverse ways, and how preventative public health strategy can have an impact on the health of communities, years, and even decades after being implemented.
Communities Have Complex Needs
Communities are inherently complicated. Multiculturalism has transformed Australia in recent decades into a thriving hub of diversity and individuality – no matter whether you live in Darwin or Doncaster, you’ll undoubtedly experience the wonders of being a part of a multicultural community.
As time has evolved, communities have become more diverse, fragmented, and dispersed. While this isn’t a bad thing – it’s wonderful to see communities that can celebrate their own individuality – this can cause issues for public health services. For many GPs, understanding the composition of their community and the different cohorts they may need to communicate with (such as Culturally and Linguistically Diverse groups) can help them structure public health strategy in a way that reaches out to as many communities as possible, no matter where they live or what language they speak at home.
One such example of CALD groups being a subject of public health strategy includes the recent funding of short videos explaining the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in more than 25 languages. By providing videos in a language that communities may be more comfortable with, health departments can begin to tap into the complex needs that individual communities may have.
Education Has Multi-Faceted Benefits
Education on its own can be helpful to inform communities on health issues that are of importance. They can help provide valuable information from a trusted source, on the benefits of adhering to health advice, and the consequences of ignoring it.
This can benefit communities in a number of direct ways. For example, providing awareness can help inform people of the support services that may be available in particular areas – such as the increased public awareness of bowel cancer through free screening kits sent out to older Australians.
Additionally, alerting people on the risks of certain activities and their health impacts can also work to prevent a lack of awareness from becoming a major health issue. For example, nearly half of all Australian households experience some sort of home renovation annually – however, good public awareness of the risks of mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure means that many homeowners are aware of the health and safety requirements that are necessary for dealing with hazardous materials.
Addressing Health Issues, Pre-Medication
One of the most documented benefits of health education is its ability to help mitigate the impact of major illnesses. For example, if a product is known to cause risk to the community, medical clinics and hospitals may distribute pamphlets advising of the risks and ways to manage the harmful impact of the product.
Smoking is known to have significantly detrimental impacts on smokers – including a well-documented history of increasing the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and more. As a strategy, the Australian government adopted a strategy of plain packaging, which at the time was estimated to have a significant impact on the prevalence of smoking in Australia. This was a world-leading strategy at the time, designed to eliminate the impact of marketing campaigns and to provide an unappealing, drab look to dissuade users from continuing to smoke. This has had a significant effect on the proportion of smokers in Australia, with various reports noting that approximately one-quarter of smokers quitting could be attributable to plain packaging, while the age of the average smoker has continued to rise, indicating that fewer young people are looking to take on this dangerous habit.
Acting pre-emptively can have valuable impacts on communities – by preventing the use of products such as tobacco, public health funds can then be reinvested into tacking other areas of health, such as obesity. This can also reduce the strain on public health systems, particularly
Putting it All Together
At the end of the day, public health strategies go hand in hand with health education. Health education is critical, as it allows medical professionals to provide information on conditions that may present a risk to the community – such as anti-smoking and healthy eating campaigns.
Public health strategy plays a vital role in keeping communities well informed and healthy – by providing insights into positive and negative elements of health behavior, diverse communities can be engaged in ways that are both culturally sensitive and highly relevant.
But what if there wasn’t a public health strategy? In that case, you’d find that perhaps communities would be less informed on the health risks that are present in society. In fact, an absence of information may allow less ethical actors (such as those from product lobby groups) to provide information on products that may pose unknown risks to communities. Therefore, it’s essential that public health officials work together with health education to face the issues that communities face today.