comment: Public health community engagement must begin in the classroom

Published: 15/07/2004, Volume II4, No. 5914 Page 13

Research for the King's Fund on public attitudes to public health (Ideas, pages 14-15) shows that poorer people tend to have much lower expectations of, and control over, their own health.

But it is a mistake to see this divide in purely class terms. The steady rise in living standards of working class people over the past 50 years has not been matched by health improvements. The real divide is one of education - people with a poor education tend to be less good at weighing risk and assessing long-term cause and effects.

Health promotion starts - and is arguably most effective - in the classroom. It is clear that engaging young people at the point when their mindset is formed has long-lasting effects on their attitudes to their own health.

It is notable that the National Primary Care Development Team under Sir John Oldham is exploiting its successful community engagement techniques in a pilot scheme which is working with 'problem' children in 30 schools.

If it is successful, it would suggest that traditional health promotion should be rethought and more funding diverted to the education sector.