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Health promotion in schools: a scoping review of systematic reviews

Roy Chilton (Evidence Synthesis and Modelling for Health Improvement (ESMI), University of Exeter Medical School, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK)
Mark Pearson (Evidence Synthesis and Modelling for Health Improvement (ESMI), University of Exeter Medical School, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK)
Rob Anderson (Evidence Synthesis and Modelling for Health Improvement (ESMI), University of Exeter Medical School, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK)

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Article publication date: 1 June 2015




Schools are an important setting for a wide variety of activities to promote health. The purpose of this paper is to map the different types of health promotion programmes and activities in schools, to estimate the amount of published evaluations of health promotion within UK schools, and to identify any provisional “candidate programme theories” to inform a planned theory-driven systematic review.


Review of reviews: in total, 67 published systematic reviews of health promotion in schools were identified, from which a sub-sample of 28 systematic reviews (on 14 health topics) were retrieved for more detailed reading.


Key dimensions of programme design and delivery fell mainly under the following categories: the problem and age-group of children targeted, who delivers the programme and how, and the scale and theoretical underpinning of the programme. Candidate programme theories spanned both effectiveness factors and aspects of programme implementation.

Research limitations/implications

Few detailed “candidate theories” emerged for explaining how and why health promotion can more successfully implemented in different schools.

Practical implications

There are five or more systematic reviews of studies of health promotion programmes in schools which target: smoking prevention; physical activity; sexual health; emotional and behavioural health and well-being; mental health; substance abuse; obesity/overweight. This suggests probable duplication of health problem-specific systematic reviews.


The findings highlight the considerable diversity of health promotion in schools, and specifies key dimensions of this diversity. They underline the need to understand better how, why, and in what circumstances health promotion can be successfully implemented in different schools and education systems.



The authors gratefully acknowledge the valuable contributions of the wider project team to the thinking about these issues (Professor Charles Abraham, Dr Katrina Wyatt, Professor Tamsin Ford, Helen Buckley Wood), several peer reviewers of the original proposal to the NIHR School for Public Health Research, and also the anonymous reviewer whose comments suggested some important improvements to the paper. This project was funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research. The National Institute for Health Research’s School for Public Health Research (NIHR SPHR) is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Bristol, Cambridge, UCL; The London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; The University of Exeter Medical School; the LiLaC collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool and Lancaster and “Fuse”; The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, a collaboration between Newcastle, Durham, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside Universities. The NIHR School for Public Health Research commissioned the research following peer review, but otherwise had no involvement in the design or analysis of the research. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.


Chilton, R., Pearson, M. and Anderson, R. (2015), "Health promotion in schools: a scoping review of systematic reviews", Health Education, Vol. 115 No. 3/4, pp. 357-376.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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