Burrows, Lisette and Wright, Jan, 2004, The good life: New Zealand children's perspectives on health and self, Sport Education and Society, 9(2), 193-205.
In New Zealand, the introduction of a new health and physical education curriculum, coupled with extraordinary levels of lay and professional concern about children’s health (as recorded by the Adolescent Health Research Group in 2003) has contributed to a reconceptualisation of health education practices in schools. Policy and professional interventions are increasingly focused on enhancing children’s sense of themselves as agentic beings with the emotional, intellectual and cultural resources to make wise choices in a climate replete with health ‘risks’. Words like ‘wellbeing’ and ‘hauora’ are being used to signal a shift in emphasis from health as a largely corporeal state to health as something intimately related to social, intellectual and emotional aspects of a person’s life. Drawing on data derived from a large national assessment project, this paper explores year 4 and year 8 students’ understandings about the constituents of health. The ways in which students engage with these two very different understandings of what health entails are a particular focus of inquiry. Analysis suggests that while, for the young people in this study, the body remains a key site for ‘reading’ the health of a person, it is by no means the only reference point. Being happy, thinking positively about oneself and being kind to others were regularly reported as attributes of a ‘healthy person’ by both girls and boys and students from both age groups. Many students also established links between bodies, health, morality and character. Clearly they did not necessarily regard the ‘body’ in isolation from mental, social, spiritual and even environmental constituents. However, one reading of this expansion of health is that it means that even more aspects of young people’s lives are susceptible to monitoring for the presence or absence of health. This paper examines the meanings young people articulate for health and raises questions about what implications these beliefs may have for young people and their health and physical education.