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Critical appraisal of health claims: science teachers’ perceptions and practices

Lena Nordheim (Centre for Evidence Based Practice, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway)
Kjell Sverre Pettersen (Faculty of Health Sciences, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Oslo, Norway)
Signe Flottorp (Prevention, Health Promotion and Organisation Unit, Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services, Oslo, Norway)
Esther Hjälmhult (Department of Nursing, Bergen University College, Bergen, Norway)

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Article publication date: 1 August 2016




Critical appraisal skills are necessary to navigate the numerous contradictory and pseudo-scientific claims in the popular media. Health and science education in schools is essential for promoting these skills in students. The purpose of this paper is to explore lower secondary school science teachers’ perceptions and reported practices related to teaching critical appraisal of health claims.


Interpretive description strategy guided the study process. A purposeful sample of 25 Norwegian teachers was interviewed individually or in groups. Interviews were analysed using the constant comparative method.


One main theme, “unexploited opportunities for teaching critical appraisal”, and three sub-themes were identified: “inattentive to the relevance of critical appraisal”, “prioritise facts over critical appraisal”, “limited competency in critical appraisal”. Teachers’ descriptions of science sessions devoted to health education uncovered important opportunities for teaching critical appraisal of health claims. However, teachers did not appear to seize opportunities because they seemed inattentive to the relevance of teaching critical appraisal, they reported to prioritise teaching health content knowledge, and teachers themselves revealed limited expertise in assessing health claims critically.

Practical implications

The findings suggest that science teachers need support to take better advantage of the links between health and science education to enhance students’ critical appraisal skills.


This study adds depth to the understanding of issues and challenges faced by science teachers regarding critical appraisal of health claims, which is an important aspect of health education schools.



The authors wish to thank all science teachers who kindly participated in the interviews. The authors are also grateful to the following researchers and colleagues: Arild Bjørndal, for contributing to the research idea; Øystein Guttersrud, Norwegian Centre for Science Education, for help with recruiting teachers for the study; Marit Johansen, Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services for co-moderating two focus groups; Nina Rydland Olsen, Bergen University College, for co-moderating one focus group and providing useful comments to the draft manuscript. Bergen University College is funding the PhD scholarship of the first author.


Nordheim, L., Pettersen, K.S., Flottorp, S. and Hjälmhult, E. (2016), "Critical appraisal of health claims: science teachers’ perceptions and practices", Health Education, Vol. 116 No. 5, pp. 449-466.



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