The key to improving health is education, Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, said last week.
Mr Wilson's remark, at the Edinburgh launch of new teacher training materials for health education, coincides with a growing recognition among education authorities that poor health and poverty are major barriers to achievement. Aberdeen has already launched an initiative to tackle the problems.
The need for an all-embracing strategy has already been highlighted by Sam Galbraith, the Scottish Office minister in charge of health, sport and children. "The way in is through the schools," Mr Galbraith told The TES Scotland in September.
Mr Wilson has now signalled that teacher training will link improvements in children's health to the realisation of their potential and the raising of standards. In so doing, he made clear that health education must be about more than eating habits or the health-promoting school.
"In a sense all education is health education and raising educational standards will help us achieve a healthier Scotland," Mr Wilson said. "Health education and health promotion must start at the nursery stage and be progressively developed through primary, secondary, further and tertiary learning. Good health and healthy lifestyles are central to lifelong learning."
Mr Wilson expects teacher education institutions to "embed health education in all courses of initial teacher education". The guidelines on teacher training, currently being reviewed and intended to apply from the 1999-2000 session, will confirm this central role.
Teacher training materials have already been prepared in a project funded by the Scottish Office, supported by the Health Education Board for Scotland and involving each of the six teacher education institutions. The project's steering group was chaired by Professor Gordon Wilson, assistant principal at Paisley University.
A major feature of the project is the creation of a database that will be available to lecturers and teachers on the Internet. But no decisions have yet been taken on how HERO - Health Education Resources Online - will be funded.
The project has also generated a framework for health education in teacher training, workshops to help student teachers evaluate their own attitudes to health education, assistance for teachers in coping with pupils who have chronic health problems, and materials for the institutions themselves to review the extent to which they are "health-promoting".
Professor Wilson said the outcome of this work would introduce a more co-ordinated approach and more sharing of good practice across the six institutions in Scotland. Staff development for lecturers would have to be a priority.
He acknowledged the difficulties in finding time in already crowded one-year postgraduate courses. Existing guidelines on initial teacher education do not stipulate how much time has to be devoted to health education, but the revised version will make clear that room has to be found.