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Teaching About Hypertension Through a Popular Education Approach

Wednesday, February 5, 2020   (0 Comments)
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  Written By: Francisco J. Ronquillo, MA, PA 



Hypertension is the most common primary diagnosis in America. It is estimated that approximately 75 million or more Americans have high blood pressure—that is 1 in every 3 American adults.2 It is also a high risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is one of the leading causes of death for men and women. This is such a common health condition for many people that it is imperative for us in the health sector to share this information with the population. In order to teach a health topic in a meaningful and impactful manner, it is important to introduce anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology using common language and simple visuals through a popular education approach.

Our communities can benefit immensely from having health education sessions in order to create a more health literate community. It is estimated that only 12% of the American public is health literate.5

What is Health literacy?
Health literacy is the ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions—is essential to promote healthy people and communities.3 Through health literacy, people learn skills they will use to make healthy choices throughout their lifetime. A benefit and expected outcome is to promote positive changes in behavior that lower the risk for the individual, family, community and society.

Taking a community level improvement approach to reach the whole population is of vital importance to have health information available and accessible to the healthy population, to those considered borderline and those already diagnosed with a chronic condition. Health education and health literacy efforts should be made available to all in a comprehensive, culturally and linguistically appropriate manner.

Access to health information is extremely important for all. Intervening early creates a more health literate, conscious and informed population. Health education can help keep our communities healthy by bringing accurate and concise information in a timely manner for people to take action with respect to health promotion and disease prevention. Health education is one of the most effective strategies to disseminate information to the population. It can be done in various modalities through the radio, television, in printed form, but one of the most effective ways is through face-to-face education by taking a Popular Education approach.

What is Popular Education?
Popular education is an educational approach that collectively and critically examines everyday experiences and raises consciousness for organizing and movement building, acting on injustices with a political vision in the interests of the most marginalized. ~ Paulo Freire4

Popular education (PE) is an approach that was introduced and influenced by the work of Brazilian educator and philosopher, Paulo Freire. PE encourages people to teach and learn from each other about issues that matter most in their lives, issues that will allow them to organize together for social change. Through PE, a health topic like hypertension, which is the third leading cause of death in the US2, is one that many people can advocate for in order to bring more awareness, preventive services and quality interventions and clinical care.

PE is designed to raise the consciousness of its participants and to allow them to become more aware of how personal experiences are connected to larger societal problems. It is not just learning for the purpose of acquiring knowledge, but learning so that you can make a difference in your community through a collective process.

Three basic principles of Popular Education are:

  1. We are all teachers and we are all learners.
  2. Everyone knows a lot as a result of her/his life experience.
  3. The goal of education should be to create healthier communities.

Through PE, hypertension and any other health topics can be introduced in a non-threating, highly engaging and active participation manner. The participants can greatly benefit from learning about anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology, in common language, by integrating their personal knowledge and connecting the content to their bodies, personal experiences and newly acquired knowledge and information. The ultimate goal is to have the participants obtain a strong sense of what hypertension is, how it affects the human body and how to take action through prevention, early intervention/detection and even explore strategies for social and policy change.

With respect to hypertension, it is important and essential for people to learn the following:

  • A general overview of the Circulatory System
  • Heart Anatomy and Function
  • Systolic and Diastolic Pressures and What the Numbers Mean
  • Primary vs. Secondary Hypertension
  • Hypertensive Urgency vs. Emergency
  • Target Organs Affected
  • Prevention Messages 

All the previous points related to hypertension can easily be relayed to the community through a PE approach. This approach has proven to be a very effective way of teaching complex topics in a way that fully engages the participants, promotes active participation because it allows the individual to share knowledge, experiences and testimonies based on their personal experience and learn from everyone involved in the learning process.

When it comes to hypertension and other health conditions, one of the greatest needs in community and public health is access to health education and information in a culturally,

linguistically and comprehensible manner. In spite of the rapid technological advances and easy and fast access to information, there is a broad segment of the population that is left out for various reasons, such as, access to technology, broadband and connectivity issues, literacy issues and more. These barriers are more commonly affecting the most vulnerable and marginalized groups, people of color and people with disabilities.

PE is an excellent model and strategy to provide education to the people that can greatly benefit from it. It is a strategy that can bring equity and address inequities if it is implemented with the appropriate team. PE has been used successfully to create more equitable conditions around the world for more than fifty years.7 Considering our existing social, political and economic environment in the United States, PE can be the conduit to bring health information and education to the disenfranchised groups. This education and sociopolitical strategy can begin to impact the community at large by improving health outcomes, responding to social/health inequities and closing the gap in health disparities.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 24/7 Saving Lives, Protecting People
  2. Dosh, Steven A., MD, MS. “The Diagnosis of Essential and Secondary Hypertension in Adults.” J Family Practice. 2001 August: 50 (8): 707-712
  3. Health.gov
  4. Teaching Democracy: A popular education sharing space.
  5. National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) “A nationally representative and continuing assessment of English language literary skills of American Adults”.
  6. US Department of Health & Human Services: Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
  7. Wiggins, Noelle. “Popular education for health promotion and community empowerment: a review of the literature.” Health Promotion International, Vol. 27 No. 3; 11 August, 2011

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