Hot Health Topics 2020

One of the joys of teaching #HealthEd is that it is such a dynamic topic. That’s one reason why my recent TEDx talk was titled “This is not your parent’s health class”.  I don’t think any one year has been the same as another, in fact every semester has been different for me. As society ebbs and flows, health topics become du jour and the media jump on the latest headline grabbing concern and again all eyes look at health teachers. “Surely they should be discussing that in health” as another content area lands in our very full laps. However, as I find myself continually saying to others:

Topics come and go, but the skills that our students require to help them make healthful decisions will remain constant.

I’ve shared my #HealthEd predictions before, and here’s the latest update. Obviously these predictions represent my lens, my biases, and my personal interests, and they reflect the community within which I teach. However, with some help from my PLN, here are the topics that I think will be hot in 2020. Don’t agree with some of these? Let me know, or tweet your comments and use the hashtag #slowchathealth.

10. Pornography. With three #slowchathealth blog posts in the last year addressing this topic it is evident that this is a conversation that needs to be had. Parents are hoping that teachers are talking about this, and teachers are hoping that parents are. With parents and teachers both avoiding the P-O-R-N conversation, there is no doubt that there is a need to give kids the confidence and courage needed to draw boundaries based on their own values not those put upon them. In her slowchathealth guest blog post Stephanie Ferri wrote that porn sites get more traffic than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined and one-third of young people are saying they have seen porn for the first time at age 12 or younger. The reality is, that for some, pornography is the only “sex-education” they get!

For more on this topic you might want to read Sex, College, & Social MediaSexploitation, and American Hookup. Make sure you are following Christopher Pepper on twitter and have checked out the Sexuality and Media Literacy lesson that he wrote for the awesome Be Real, Be Ready curriculum. This particular lesson is designed to help students apply critical thinking skills to media, particularly media images that portray gender and sexuality and it includes a discussion of pornography.

9. The Environment. Slowchathealth contributor Drew Miller wrote “I think environmental wellness is going to continue to flourish next year. It has to!” With fires burning on the west coast and in Australia as I write, coinciding with an administration that has rolled back more than 90 environmental rules, it is time for our student advocates to apply their skills to this cause. Additionally they should be inspired by Time magazine’s recognition of Greta Thunberg, one of their peers and her work in raising awareness of environmental concerns. The Power of Youth was their tagline, and should be seen as rallying cry for our students, empowering them to use their voices.

In a previous blog post I wrote: “The easiest way for me to incorporate discussions on environmental health is in my teaching of National Health Education Standard 2 as it focuses on identifying and understanding the diverse internal and external factors that influence health practices and behaviors among youth. This way I can encourage students to see the environment as including their family, their culture, the school, community, the media they consume, how they use technology, perceptions of norms, public health policies and government regulations.”

RWJF quote 1

8. Updated HIV Curricula.  The awesome Advocates for Youth wrote: “So many states’ HIV curriculum is outdated, failing to mention PrEP or U=U. In fact, some states don’t even require to be medically accurate! We started a campaign around last year that you can join here.” Advances in HIV treatment curricula and advocacy for those living with HIV mean that there is a push for updated policy and curricula, particularly when working with young adults. Ask yourself is your curriculum up-to-date, in addition to being inclusive, culturally responsible, and medically accurate. If you aren’t talking to your students about PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), and using new terminology, such as U=U (Undetectable = Untransmittable), then it is time to revamp your materials.

I highlighted the work being done by HIV.Gov as they prepared for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) in this slowchathealth blog post. Look out for state conferences adding sessions regarding this topic to their conference line-up.

7. Mental Health. When I first started teaching in the mid 90’s, I couldn’t imagine talking about the mental health of students – it just wasn’t something that was being addressed. Expect our future conversations about mental health to include all students, and their families. Expect our conversations to be more informed, and preventative, and not exclusively reacting to those students already in need of help.

My school is offering a parent evening titled “Understanding and Supporting Adolescent Mental Health” that will provide an overview of school-based supports and resources in addition to featuring experts from community mental health organizations. We are also offering ‘Lunch & Learn’ sessions for students who can sign up to learn more about this topic also. As our Superintendent wrote “It takes a true village of parents, friends, community, and school to understand and support our students”. As health teachers we can’t be expected to solve all of the health concerns facing our community and as such we have to embrace the approach taken by the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model. Any time I ask students to research service providers I ask them to focus on supports available within the school, then the community, and finally further afield. I want my students to feel comfortable advocating for help for themselves and others.

Last week, my co-workers and I refreshed their QPR/suicide awareness certification. This stands for Question, Persuade, Refer and all health teachers in our building are expected to recognize suicidal behaviors and signs of crisis around us.

6. Our Continuing Relationship with Technology. Slowchathealth contributor Amy Prior predicts that we’ll see “a move away from technology and more toward building relationships face to face” and Mary Wentland predicts more conversation around “social media use…service learning and genuine human connection”. There’s no doubt that we are continuing to navigate the student/tech relationship and at times this topic can distance us from our students, partimuJq0fNH.jpgcularly when you are as old as I am.  I didn’t have a cell phone until I was in my 20’s and yet my own five year old is comfortable taking my phone, unlocking it using the 4 digit code, and searching on YouTube. While sensationalist headlines such as this don’t help the situation, there are organizations out there trying to educate families about appropriate device usage. Check out the work of Wait Until 8th and their campaign to restrict smartphone ownership until 8th grade.

Teachers have embraced technology as best they can but we are seeing an increasing dependence upon, or addiction to devices. Our message has to be when, and how to best use technology. Does being online make our students happy? How are their digital relationships shaping their face-to-face relationships? Is a dependence upon technology affecting other areas of their lives, notably sleep?

If you have seen this TED talk then you’ll love Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter. It’s one of the best books I have read in the past few years.

5. Vaping / Marijuana Use. You know you’re teaching a dynamic content area when one of the hottest topics wasn’t even mentioned in your classroom just a few years ago. YRBS data, in conjunction with the legalization of marijuana has meant that this topic is being discussed in my community and in other areas of my school building in addition to my classroom. It’s common for health teachers to ask for ideas related to teaching and writing curriculum  on combating the rise of vaping. Here are the three most commonly recommended links for you to bookmark and share. You’re welcome.

Stanford Medicine Tobacco Prevention Toolkit. A theory-based and evidence-informed educational resource created by educators and researchers aimed at preventing middle and high school students’ use of tobacco and nicotine products.

CATCH My Breath. A free program available to any school in the United States thanks to a grant from CVS Health as a part of the Be the First campaign to create the first tobacco-free generation. CATCH My Breath is best practices-based and has been shown to reduce the number of students who choose to experiment with e-cigarettes by as much as 45%.

Safety First: Real Drug Education for Teens is the nation’s first harm reduction-based drug education curriculum for high school teachers. The free curriculum consists of 15 lessons that can be completed in a 45- to 50-minute class period.

4. Masculinity If you’ve been following trends on social media recently you will have seen a LOT of buzz about the latest book from Peggy Orenstein titled “Boys & Sex” which really is an eye-opening read regarding the attitudes that boys have to love, sex and masculinity. Her book is one of four that discuss the same topic and the second masculinity related #slowchathealth Book of the Month following on from SHAPE America presenter/poet Carlos Andrea Gomez and “Man Up“.

Peggy Orenstein tweeted “This year there’ll be a LOT of discussion, at least in our circles, about young men, masculinity, ethical sexuality, promoting emotional resilience & connection. My book & I’m excited about ‘s “Decoding Boys“, ‘s “A Better Man“. Both of those books are available to pre-order now.

If you want to get a sense of what the conversation is regarding masculinity, you should check out this article from the Atlantic, and this engrossing NPR interview. I promise you will want to purchase Peggy’s book after you hear this.

As a teacher and father of boys, I bought it, and walking through the halls at school, with Peggy’s words in my head, means that I can’t help but see my teen students in a different light.

One final resource you might like to check out is the AXE  curriculum Generation Unlabeled which is comprised of five, no cost, interactive lessons that cover a range of topics – from toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes to inclusivity.

3. Consent Thankfully this topic remains high on our list. The understanding of and the role that consent plays within relationships is key functional knowledge. When I tell parents at parent-teacher conferences that I’m teaching their teen about healthy relationships and understanding consent, you know they realize the importance of our subject area. This51ghAylKEpL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ has been a hot topic in terms of #slowchathealth guest blog posts, none hotter than “Teaching Consent” which was written by the amazing Shafia Zaloom, author of the outstanding book “Sex, Teens and Everything in Between“. What I love most about this book is that it’s written by someone doing the work, in the classroom, with students like yours. Her students, and the realistic role-play scenarios that they create with Shafia feature in this book and can be adapted to use with your students.

The National Sexuality Education Standards document is a valuable resource. Created by The Future of Sex Education Initiative (FoSE) the document maps out content and skills appropriate for different stages in school. Consent is effectively introduced in 2nd grade, with sexual consent covered in high school. And that is a crucial point, consent isn’t just about sex. Young kids need to learn that no means no , the value of ‘no‘ and that they have a right to be heard, and protect their bodies.

And while you’re checking out great resources, have you seen Advocates new Rights, Respect, Responsibility free K-12 sex ed curriculum? It includes 80 lesson plans and a 25-page Teacher’s Guide for free.

My local university, Northwestern, has some great resources on their site. See also ‘Yes Means Yes’ and the Step Up? Bystander Intervention Program.

2. Inclusive Curricula. Look out for teachers to work increasingly hard at making sure that ALL students see themselves in our lessons. All of our lessons. Say goodbye to overly gendered language, dated terminology, and an ignorance of pronouns as our students speak up and advocate for the health curriculum that they rightly deserve. Look for a greater understanding of transgender and gender-expansive students and their needs. As teachers increase their knowledge and teach more effectively, their students will become more knowledgeable about their own physical and emotional development, and that of their peers too. This in turn will prepare students to acknowledge and respect the diversity of bodies and experiences around them.

Expect to see more people push back against ‘sexual risk avoidance’ curricula which is essentially a rebranding of abstinence only teaching. I love the latest campaign from Trojan as it leads the way in this message.

The power of schools to make a difference in young people’s lives by reflecting their experiences through curriculum and other supportive strategies cannot be overstated. As Stephanie Brill, the founder and Board Chair of Gender Spectrum stated, “Gender inclusive puberty and health education is life-affirming for all students, and life-saving for some.”

Talking of inclusivity – look out for pronoun stickers to become the norm at conferences and on social media biographies. I’ve listed mine, have you listed yours?

1. Skills-Based Health education, curriculum and assessments. This topic remains at the top of our list, and rightly so. Since our first ‘Hot Topics’ list was published Dr Sarah Benes and Dr Holly Alperin followed up the success of The Essentials of Teaching Health Education with their amazing text Lesson Planning for Skills-Based Health Education. Promising “strategies for designing lessons, plus teacher-tested and ready to use unit outlines, assessments, lesson plans, and learning activities” this book doesn’t disappoint. One of the re-affirming things about this topic is that I am seeing an increase in the numbers of teachers feeling empowered to make that slow and, at times difficult, transition towards a skills-based approach. We are also seeing an increase in the quality of #HealthEd sessions at state conferences as teachers grow in confidence in sharing their materials with others. Long may this continue.

We’ve moved away from memorization and recall of facts and towards an approach that introduces students to health skills, provides them with opportunities to practice those skills and empowers them to use those skills to improve not only their health but that of friends, family and their community. We’ve moved away from playing the short game, hoping for a successful semester, and are now focusing on the long game, aiming for a successful lifetime.

Health behavior theory tells us that knowledge alone does not change behavior and as such, teachers are transitioning from a “knowledge is power’ approach to one that believes that “skills are power”.

Quote from “This Is Not Your Parent’s Health Class

Our aim as health educators is not only to allow students to do but to do it well in unfamiliar situations, we can weave any of the content areas listed above into our curriculum and incorporate our health skill of choice, providing students with the opportunity to practice that skill in a no-risk environment.


Just outside the Top 10 and possibly on the list next year? Technology in the classroom – you know that Virtual Reality is coming right? Happiness and Joy will be woven into your classroom so expect those topics to get more exposure. Sleep dropped out of our Top 10, but it’s not going away. I swear, it’s my secret superpower!

Don’t agree with some of these? Let me know, or tweet your comments and use the hashtag #slowchathealth.



3 thoughts on “Hot Health Topics 2020

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