In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Wellness and Well-Being in Education

  • Introduction

Education Wellness and Well-Being in Education
Michael P. McNeil
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0214


Wellness is not a universally defined concept, in that it has many different models and included dimensions based on a variety of publications. As will be demonstrated with the resources listed in this article, other terms that are linked with wellness and are needed to compile a compendium of reputable resources include school health, health education, health promotion, well-being, and health behavior. Additionally, a significant number of available resources are centered on one or more topics related to wellness (e.g., nutrition) but do not always incorporate broader wellness approaches. As such, those resources are only included here if they make a substantial contribution to the literature. To understand concepts of wellness in any educational setting requires first to understand how the term is being defined in that space or for that population. In some places, wellness is simply referring to physical health, not unlike an older model of health as simply the absence of disease. In a growing number of settings wellness is multidimensional, with models ranging from five to nine different dimensions. Contemporary wellness in education has grown from nurses working to address infectious diseases among school students to the belief that a well-rounded and educated individual will value and apply health principles to make informed decisions that support whole-person well-being. Along the way, colleges and universities added staff to promote wellness—to absolve faculty of having to support student’s health; and primary and secondary schools added health and wellness teachers, many primarily focused on the promotion of physical activity. Whether building on Hettler’s six-dimension wellness model to the nine-dimension model used by a number of colleges and universities it is critical to remember that education is the setting of practice. In doing so, the purpose of education must be at the center as stated by William David Burns in 1999 (cited as Burns 1999 under Reports and Other Resources: Postsecondary) when he said “Let’s start with our own core academic mission, namely guarantying the integrity, rigor, quality, and effectiveness of the education we offer…” (p. 5). The need to apply rigor and to measure effectiveness of wellness in education is an unending imperative that requires the best resources. Understanding wellness in education requires subdividing the educational context into two major domains: (1) primary and secondary and (2) postsecondary. Each setting provides contextual elements that drive wellness and these items often cannot be separated from the broader wellness concept. For the purposes of this bibliography, primary and secondary grades are defined as kindergarten through grade twelve, and postsecondary is defined as college, including undergraduate and graduate studies.

General Overview

There are a wide variety of terms and ideas that constitute the domains of wellness in education. To best support a broad understanding, this collection of key resources provides opportunities to explore the various direct and indirect connections between wellness and education. Many wellness publications are focused on a blend of topic and setting. To understand resources that support wellness in education, regardless of the setting, it is helpful to focus on broad concepts of wellness. To start, many will benefit from understanding the foundations for health promotion as articulated in World Health Organization 1986 (the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion) and then reviewing the contemporary terminology like that described in the Report of the 2011 Joint Committee on Health Education and Promotion Terminology and in Bedworth and Bedwork 2010. Following an exploration of terms, it is important to understand key models of health and wellness as described in Black, et al. 2010, and application-focused concepts, including the social ecological model, as presented by McLeroy, et al. 1988. Since the early 2000s the terms well-being, flourishing, and thriving have started to be used as synonyms in place of wellness efforts, primarily in higher education. Exploring the flourishing and well-being concepts as defined in Huppert and So 2011 and Keyes 2002 provides readers with an understanding of this evolving take on wellness. Combined with these general resources should be a review of the goals for the nation in Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion 2010, showing that regardless of setting, there are opportunities to advance health and wellness.

  • Bedworth, David, and Albert Bedwork. 2010. Dictionary of health education. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Providing a well-studied and organized guide to terms, phrases, and other key ideas used in the health education profession, this core resource will assist in understanding the terminology of health education and related areas (wellness, public health, health promotion, etc.).

  • Black, Jill, Steven Furney, Helen Graf, and Ann Nolte. 2010. Philosophical foundations of health education. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

    Looking at the issues across a range of settings, including schools, the book discusses the ethical and philosophical foundations of the practice of health education. Development of a personal philosophy of health education is encouraged through the book and a conceptual framework is available to support those considering the practice of health education.

  • Huppert, Felicia, and Timothy So. 2011. Flourishing across Europe: Application of a new conceptual framework for defining well-being. Social Indicators Research 110.3: 837–861.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11205-011-9966-7

    This twenty-three-nation European study focuses on understanding the defining and measuring of well-being through mental health. Unlike other flourishing studies, this resource includes the role that culture plays in understanding well-being and the implications for policy. While not school specific, the broad reach of this study supports the need to understand subjective well-being in a setting-specific context.

  • Keyes, Corey. 2002. The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 43.2: 207–222.

    DOI: 10.2307/3090197

    Defining well-being through a positive (flourishing) to negative (languishing) scale, Keyes presents a mechanism to understand and support population health. This approach is limited in that it does not fully factor physical health as a part of whole-person health.

  • McLeroy, Kenneth R., Daniel Bibeau, Allan Steckler, and Karen Glanz. 1988. An ecological perspective of health promotion programs. Health Education & Behavior 15.4: 351–377.

    This article provides an overview on the intersection of health as a result of layers of impact, ranging from the individual through broad social environments. One of the first articles to promote individual health and wellness as resulting from policy and environmental factors.

  • Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. 2010. Healthy people 2020.

    Created to provide national health objectives for each decade, Healthy People is an ongoing and updated approach to setting an “ambitious, yet achievable” focus for population health. While not school focused, this resource has driven school and community actions regarding health and wellness. An updated version for 2030 is currently under development.

  • Report of the 2011 Joint Committee on Health Education and Promotion Terminology. 2012. American Journal of Health Education 43 (suppl. 2): 1–19.

    DOI: 10.1080/19325037.2012.11008225

    Building on past terminology efforts, this report provides a summary of the field-based efforts to understand and synthesize the various terms used around health and wellness education. This version of the terminology report takes into account the growing role of technology in health and education.

  • World Health Organization. 1986. Ottawa charter for health promotion.

    The Ottawa charter establishes a global baseline to understand what should be included in health-promotion efforts, including those occurring in school-based settings. These include, but are not limited to, policy, environments, community action, skill-building, and reorienting health services toward prevention.

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