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Chapter: Medical Surgical Nursing: Health Education and Health Promotion

Health Promotion Throughout the Life Span

Health promotion is a concept and a process that extends through-out the life span.

Health Promotion Throughout the Life Span


Health promotion is a concept and a process that extends through-out the life span. Studies have shown that the health of a child can be affected either positively or negatively by the health practices of the mother during the prenatal period. Therefore, health pro-motion starts before birth and extends through childhood, adult-hood, and old age.


Health promotion includes health screening. The American Academy of Family Physicians has developed recommenda-tions for periodic health examinations that identify the age groups for which specific screening interventions are appro-priate. Table 4-2 presents the general population guidelines; specific population standards and guidelines have also been recommended.



Health screening has traditionally been an important aspect of childhood health care. The goal has been to detect health prob-lems at an early age so that they can be treated early in a child’s life. Today, health promotion goes beyond the mere screening of children for disabilities and includes extensive efforts to pro-mote positive health practices at a very young age. Because health habits and practices are formed early in life, children should be encouraged to develop positive health attitudes. For this reason, more and more programs are being offered to school-age children and to adolescents to help them develop good health habits. Although the negative results of practices such as smoking, risky sexual activities, alcohol and drug abuse, and poor nutrition are explained in these educational programs, emphasis is also placed on values training, self-esteem, and healthy lifestyle practices. The projects are designed to appeal to a particular age group, with emphasis on learning experiences that are fun, interesting, and relevant.



Young and middle-aged adults represent an age group that not only expresses an interest in health and health promotion but also responds enthusiastically to suggestions that show how lifestyle practices can improve health. Adults are frequently motivated to change their lifestyles in ways that are believed to enhance their health and wellness. Many adults who wish to improve their health turn to health-promotion programs to help them make the desired changes in their lifestyles. They respond in overwhelming numbers to programs that focus on topics such as general well-ness, smoking cessation, exercise, physical conditioning, weight control, conflict resolution, and stress management. Because of the nationwide emphasis on health during the reproductive years, young adults actively seek programs that address prenatal health, parenting, family planning, and women’s health issues.


Programs that provide health screening, such as those that screen for cancer, high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, and hearing impairments, are quite popular with this age group. Pro-grams that cover health promotion for people with specific chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and pul-monary disease are also popular. It is becoming more evident that chronic disease and disability do not preclude health and well-ness; rather, positive health attitudes and practices can promote optimal health for people who must live with the limitations im-posed by their chronic illnesses and disabilities.

Health-promotion programs can be offered almost anywhere in the community. Common sites include local clinics, elemen-tary schools, high schools, community colleges, recreation cen-ters, churches, and even private homes. Health fairs are frequently held in civic centers and shopping malls. The outreach idea for health-promotion programs has served to meet the needs of many adults who otherwise would not avail themselves of opportuni-ties to strive toward a healthier lifestyle.


The workplace has become a center for health-promotion activ-ity as employers become increasingly concerned about the rising costs of health care insurance to treat illnesses that are related to lifestyle behaviors. They are also concerned about increased absen-teeism and lost productivity. For these reasons, many businesses have instituted health-promotion programs in the workplace. Some employ health-promotion specialists to develop and implement the program, and others purchase packaged programs that have already been developed by health care agencies or private health-promotion corporations.


Programs offered at the workplace usually include employee health screening and counseling, physical fitness, nutritional awareness, work safety, and stress management and stress reduc-tion. In addition, efforts are made to promote a safe and healthy work environment. Many large businesses provide exercise facil-ities for their employees and offer their health-promotion programs to retirees. If employers can show cost-containment benefits from such programs, their dollars will be considered well spent, and more businesses will provide health-promotion programs as a ben-efit of employment.


Health promotion is as important for the elderly as it is for other age groups. Despite the fact that 80% of people older than 65 years of age have one or more chronic illnesses and about 50% are limited in their activity, the elderly as a group experience significant gains from health promotion. Clinical work indicates that the elderly are very health-conscious and that most view their health positively and are willing to adopt practices that will im-prove their health and well-being (Ebersole & Hess, 1997; Staab

Hodges, 1996). Although their chronic illnesses and disabili-ties cannot be eliminated, these adults can benefit from activities that help them maintain independence and achieve an optimal level of health.

Various health-promotion programs have been developed to meet the needs of older Americans, many of which began within the Department of Health and Human Services. Both public and private organizations continue to be responsive to health promo-tion, and more programs that serve the elderly are emerging. Many of these programs are offered by health care agencies, churches, community centers, senior citizen residences, and a variety of other organizations. The activities directed toward health promotion for the elderly are the same as those for other age groups: physical fit-ness and exercise, nutrition, safety, and stress management.


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