Using Art for Effective Health Education

A key responsibility of public health is disease prevention and the promotion of overall well-being. Investing in disease prevention benefits individuals, the healthcare system, and society at large. To fulfill this responsibility, effective health education must be created for the general population. Effective health education relies on easy and direct messaging of sometimes complex health information.

As we experienced during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, informing the public of pressing health issues is paramount for disease prevention. Unlike COVID-19, chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, do not increase as suddenly, but are steadily on the rise. Chronic diseases are overall trending upwards, with half of the general population expected to have at least one chronic disease by 2050 (Ansah & Chiu, 2023). Consequently, modifying health behaviors through effective health education and counseling will become increasingly important.

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Health Education

One part of the difficulty in convey health information is the complexity of health information. Not only this, there is a general mismatch between the language used in health literature compared to what the general population can engage with. Individual health literacy is a person’s ability to find, understand, and use health information and services to make informed health decisions and actions for themselves and others. Low health literacy is associated with poorer health outcomes and reduced use of health care services (Berkman, Sheridan, Donahue, Halpern, & Crotty, 2011).

Unfortunately, low health literacy is prevalent in the U.S., as national data indicates that more than one-third of adults have limited health literacy (Hersh, Salzman, Snyderman, 2015). In combination with cultural and language barriers, valuable health education can get lost in translation, literally. Spreading effective and relatable health education is key to reducing this disease burden. Employing art can provide us with a method of doing just that.

Art in Public Health and Health Communication

The benefits of art to our systemic health have been well documented. Engaging with the arts has shown improved pain management (Solan, 2018), enhanced immune responses (Kuhn, 2002), reduced sense of isolation and loneliness (Kou, Konrath, & Goldstein, 2020), and adoption of healthier behaviors (Pleasant et al, 2015).

In addition to its benefits to our overall health, art plays an important role in public health and health communication. During the epidemic of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the 1980s, artists such as Keith Haring and A Tribe Called Quest used their art to increase the awareness of HIV, and provide education to the masses. These artists work serves as a way of increasing the awareness of risk factors in the general population, and are designed to be impactful to motivate people to reflect on their interaction with the risk factors.

When we consider these art works through the Health Belief Model, which describes how individuals’ balance the benefits of health modifications, their perceived susceptibility to disease, and their motivation to modify their health behaviors, art targets these three domains in a manner that transcends language-based health communication. Through captivating and engaging with our attention, ideas, and emotions, art in health education can motivate and empower communities to capitalize on maintaining their overall health.

Art in Health Education Projects

The combination of images and symbols to convey complex ideas is one of art’s greatest strengths in delivering effective messaging to public audiences. Art can be used to reflect the health beliefs we are trying to promote through cultural messaging and cultural humility. The demographics and cultural beliefs we are targeting can be integrated into our stories, paintings, and narratives, to create relatable pieces of art that resonate with our communities. (Maxwell et al, 2021; Rosas Blum et al, 2018).

A particularly useful tool that art equips health educators with is how it engages individuals on an emotional and intellectual level by targeting our health beliefs. In their study, N.C. Burns et al (2018) designed a theater performance focused on the experiences of caretakers of individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Following the performance, participants reported a higher degree of comfort and willingness to engage in conversations relating to AD than before the performance. Similar results were found by Friedman et al (2019), who created a theater performance about colorectal cancer (CRC).

In addition to having a greater tendency to engage in health-related dialogues, individuals are have a greater intention to engage in care-seeking, preventative health behaviors, such as cancer screenings (Friedman et al, 2019). By actively engaging with these artistic performances, individuals can exercise their problem-solving skills, creativity, and emotions to change their health perspectives and beliefs, including their stigmas and fears towards disease.


As we learn more about the benefits of art in our overall health, we should consider how we can use art to make us more informed of the risk factors to our health. Art is a great medium to engage with the public, understand their health beliefs, and motivate individuals to make health behaviors changes, which is a core pillar of public health. Through art, we can incorporate the community in our work to create health education experience that resonate with our target populations.

Earn an Online Postgraduate Degree in Community Oral Health

Like what you’re learning? Consider enrolling in the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC’s online, competency-based certificate or master’s program in Community Oral Health.

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Anthony Santiago Soto
Anthony Santiago Soto is a first-generation college graduate and holds a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and will complete his Masters of Science in Community Oral Health at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry at the University of Southern California (USC) this Summer 2024.

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