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Building Health and Data Literacy in K-12 Schools

With our world ever-evolving, many schools are seeing the value in adding elements of health and data literacy into the K-12 curriculum.
Female teacher in classroom with four junior high students at desks
Key Takeaways
  • COVID-19 revealed people of all ages deal with a health literacy gap, yet health education is not mandatory across the US.
  • Learning how to read, work with, analyze and communicate with data has practical advantages for career opportunities down the line, including careers in health information.

Growing health and data literacy skills in elementary school, middle school, and high school can put students on the road to success as they enter college and adulthood. 

Health information literacy incorporates both health and data literacy, and is defined by the Institute of Medicine as the “degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”

Building Health Literacy

Believe it or not, health education has been part of some K-12 instruction since the 1800s, according to reports from the National Academy of Medicine. However, unlike common core subjects like mathematics and English, health education is not mandatory across the United States.

COVID-19 revealed people of all ages deal with a health literacy gap.

According to an article published in The Lancet Public Health, “health literacy might help people to grasp the reasons behind the recommendations and reflect on outcomes of their various possible actions.” Further research published in the Health Promotional International journal also found that health literacy about COVID-19 acted as a “social vaccine,” as people who better understand the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic are more likely to take serious precautions.

Health literacy resources for students and teachers: 

  • For elementary school students
    • Be Sunbeatable is a free curriculum for kids to learn about sun safety. (University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center)
    • Eagle Books and Eagle Books Toolkit are free downloadable books and a toolkit designed to teach children about healthy living and diabetes prevention. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • For elementary and middle school students
    • BAM! Body and Mind is a resource for teachers of students from fourth to eighth grade that is targeted towards helping them make healthier lifestyle decisions. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • For middle school students
  • For middle school and high school students
    • NERD Academy Curriculum is a free resource that teaches students about public health and epidemiology-related careers and different aspects of jobs in these fields. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • For high school students

Building Data Literacy

Data literacy is a newer field than health literacy, which means there are currently fewer resources available for K-12 students. According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, an effective K-12 data literacy program will help students learn to ask questions about data, as well as “develop and evaluate…predictions that are based on data.”

Learning how to read, work with, analyze and communicate with data has practical advantages for career opportunities down the line.

Research from the Data Literacy Project found:

  • 85% of executives believe data literacy will become as vital in the future as the ability to use a computer is today.
  • US workers who can demonstrate their data literacy skills can expect a 20% salary increase.
  • 78% of global employees are spending time every month investing in their own personal development. These employees are spending an average of nearly seven hours on personal upskilling each month at an average cost of $2,800 over the last 12 months.

Data literacy resources for students and teachers: 

  • For pre-school and elementary school students:
    • Safety Smart Online, through the Lion King’s characters Timon and Pumba, gives kids in pre-school through third-grade age-appropriate lessons on the importance of protecting personal information online and what to do if people are targeted by cyberbullies. (Health World Education).
  • For elementary, middle, and high school students:
    • YouCubed’s data science curriculum has different tasks and data talks targeted toward kindergarten, first and second grade, third to fifth grade, sixth and seventh grade, and eighth to tenth-grade students. (Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education)
    • Statistics in School This project from the census bureau gives teachers lesson plans on how they can incorporate data from the census into mathematics, English, history geography, and sociology lessons for students in grades K-12. (Census Bureau)
  • For middle and high school students:
    • What is the Difference Between Mis- and Disinformation? This lesson shows how data science overlaps with journalism and social media. Its focus is on teaching students about the difference between misinformation and disinformation, as well as helping students learn how to talk about these issues. (PBS Newshour)
  • For high school students:

Advocating for Changes in Curriculum

Many public schools have curriculum committees where parents and teachers can give input or even be official committee members. Parents can also reach out to school board members and speak about this issue during relevant times at open sessions during school board meetings.

Assessing Health Education Curriculum 

You can download free tools to assess health education curricula and improve school health and safety policies and programs. Whether you use these resources or make your own curriculum, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends effective health curriculums:

  • Teach functional health information
  • Shape personal values and beliefs that support healthy behaviors
  • Help students develop essential health skills necessary to adopt, practice, and maintain health-enhancing behaviors

Better Health is in Your HandsTM

Additional Information:

Help K-12 Students Learn about Data Science

The University of California, Los Angeles is currently partnering with 135 high schools to implement a data science curriculum. They welcome high school administrators, especially those in California, to reach out for partnerships. 

Published 09/14/2022
Last Updated 01/05/2023
Source AHIMA Foundation (Copyright © 2022)