October 21-25 is National Health Education Week. Learn more here.
Since being diagnosed with multiple chronic illnesses, I’ve had to learn a lot about my own body and how to take care of it. Which got me thinking; why didn’t I learn any of this in my middle school or high school health classes?
Of course, I know things have changed since I graduated from high school, but I was curious what exactly is being taught in health classes these days. So I did a little digging and found the curriculum requirements for health education in the state of Ohio. And guess what? It’s even worse than I thought.
While each district is responsible for creating the curriculum that will be taught in its schools, the state of Ohio mandates that the following topics be covered in grades 9-12:
That’s it. Any instruction beyond these topics is at the discretion of the districts and teachers who are responsible for educating our kids about their bodies and how to take care of them. It’s no wonder so many of us are ill-equipped to handle diagnoses as young adults. And it’s no surprise that we’re turning to online forums and asking Google for answers about our health.
Teenagers are graduating high school fully aware of the dangers of drugs and unprotected sex, but they have no idea how to talk to their doctor or choose the right insurance plan. Teenage girls can list ten different STDs, but they’ve never heard the word “endometriosis.” They know how to fill out a job application, but they don’t know what FMLA stands for, let alone how to use it.
According to the American Sexual Health Association, one in two sexually active people will contract an STD by age 25, most of which are curable (1). On the other hand, millions of people will be diagnosed with incurable illnesses, regardless of their sexual activity.
I’m not denying the importance of teaching teenagers about the dangers of STDs and unsafe sex. But in the grand scheme of things, STDs aren’t nearly as big a threat as my high school health teacher had me believing.
While we’re educating high school students on the biology of chlamydia and gonorrhea, it still takes an average of ten years to diagnose endometriosis, a condition that effects at least one in ten women (2). For me, it took fifteen.
Six out of ten adults in the US live with a chronic disease, and four out of ten have more than one (3). Yet we’re sending teenagers off to college and into the workforce totally unprepared for the health problems they’ll most likely face at some point.
We’re churning out young adults who think opioids are nothing more than a gateway to heroin, and that if they eat healthy and don’t smoke, they’ll live forever. In reality, people with disabilities are the world’s largest minority – and the only minority you can become a part of at any time.
The “sex, drugs and dating violence” curriculum is a start. But health isn’t about fear. It’s about learning to be well.