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Lesson Plan November 13, 2023

Reading the News Through a Public Health Lens



Students will be able to...

  • Define social determinants of health, and identify examples.
  • Evaluate how a wide range of issues connect to and impact human health by identifying social determinants of health in news stories.
  • Apply a public health lens to brainstorming solutions to global issues.


1. Give students some time to individually write at least five responses that complete the sentence, "For me, a healthy life includes..." Encourage students to think about many different kinds of health, such as physical, emotional, intellectual, social, etc.

2. Ask students to share at least one of their responses with a partner, and to complete this sentence: "To have _____, I need..." Model this thinking for the class before students turn and talk. For example:

  • "For me, a healthy life includes spending time with friends. To have time with friends, I need free time away from work, school, and other responsibilities, and access to transportation and/or Internet and electronic devices to connect."
  • "For me, a healthy life includes eating fresh foods and vegetables. To have fresh foods and vegetables, I need grocery stores or vendors near my home that stock these items, open land near my community that produces these items, and affordable price points."

Ask for a few volunteers to share with the class.

3. Let students know that today's lesson will focus on public health, which is all about looking a health on a community level. Consider screening this video from the American Public Health Association to define public health and prepare for an introduction to social determinants of health (see below).

Introducing the Lesson:

In this lesson, we will examine the connections between human health and a wide range of global issues, from environment and climate change to migration. Almost any story you encounter in the news can be read as a story about health if you apply a public health lens. We will practice applying this lens by exploring news stories while considering questions like: How do the events, decisions, or circumstances described in this story impact people’s health and wellbeing?

By answering this question, you are identifying social determinants of health, which the CDC defines as “conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of life-risks and outcomes.” The graphic below offers an examples of social determinants of health, visualized here as the roots of a tree. If these roots are strong, health outcomes are more likely to be positive. If the roots are weak, health outcomes will suffer.

By identifying social determinants of health in news stories, we can begin to brainstorm a public health approach to addressing the issues facing our communities and our world. A public health approach will focus on the roots of health outcomes for entire communities.

Illustration of a tree whose roots are formed by social determinants of health, such as "quality education" and "access to safe and efficient transportation."
Image from the Equity and Social Justice Initiative, King County, Washington,

Activity: Reading News Stories Through a Public Health Lens

Use the handout below to identify connections between health and other global issues, and explore the news through a public health lens. For this activity, students can work individually or in small groups.

Step 1. Students select a story from the list on page 2 of the handout.

Step 2. While reading, students use the graphic organizer on page 3 of the handout to record social determinants of health that are relevant to the story.

Step 3. After reading, students use the graphic organizer on page 3 of the handout to apply a public health lens to evaluating how each story could be considered a story about health, and to brainstorm public health approaches to addressing the issues in the story.


As a class, discuss:

  • How easy/challenging was it to identify social determinants of health in the story you explored?
  • How easy/challenging was it to identify a potential public health approach to addressing the issue(s) in the story?
    • Give students space to share approaches they brainstormed. For students who found the exercise challenging, use the class as a forum to support their brainstorm.
  • The public health approach asks us to go beyond symptoms and focus on the roots of health outcomes. Why is this valuable? What makes this challenging?

Extension Activities:

Option 1: Extend Your Inquiry into Public Health Approaches

Choose one issue that interests you from the story you explored today. Extend your brainstorm by doing some research into how this issue impacts health, and what solutions have been proposed and/or tested. After doing your research, synthesize and share your findings in one of the following formats:

  • A short paper that describes the issue, its impact on health, at least one potential solution that would prevent/reduce negative health outcomes from this issue, and evidence that shows why you think this solution could be effective.
  • An infographic that illustrates the impact of the issue on health and presents evidence for why a particular solution could help prevent/reduce negative health outcomes from this issue.

Option 2: Interview a Public Health Leader

Do some research and identify a public health leader or organization in your community. (You can define your community however you would like: neighborhood, city, state, country, identity group, etc.) Reach out and interview this person or a representative of the organization. Put together a presentation to share with the class. Address the following in your presentation: 

  • Overview of the individual or organization (Mission, goals, etc.)
  • What issues, solutions, actions, or policies do they champion or support?
  • How might we support their work in our everyday lives?

Click here to watch a short video with tips on how to conduct an interview with journalist Natasha S. Alford, or here for a full lesson on interview skills.

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navy halftone illustration of a female doctor with her arms crossed


Health Inequities

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