Connecting the Dots: The Role of Art in Strengthening Health Promoting Behaviors - Action for Healthy Kids
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Connecting the Dots: The Role of Art in Strengthening Health Promoting Behaviors

by Ashley Krombach (she/her); Senior Program Manager of Social-Emotional Health

Health Promoting Behaviors

We know that when we feel our best – we do our best, including the ways we connect with, support, and advocate for others. How do we work towards feeling our best? By promoting healthy behaviors. Health-promoting behaviors are the individual actions we take that lead to improved health and well-being. In other words, they are the ways in which we nourish our bodies and mind. Health-promoting behaviors are complex, overlap with one another, and vary across the lifespan, in different settings, and over time. Establishing healthy behaviors helps to prevent chronic illness and disease and improve our overall quality of life. What are health-promoting behaviors? Think about actions that you can take that nourish your body physically, socially, and emotionally. Health-promoting behaviors look like:

  • Staying fueled with proper nutrition, healthy eating habits, and hydration
  • Keeping our bodies active with regular physical activity and exercise
  • Helping our minds find balance by managing emotions, setting and working towards goals, and establishing healthy relationships with others
  • Staying safe by avoiding risky behaviors such as substance misuse
  • Maintaining healthy and regular sleep patterns
  • Getting regular health screenings
  • … and more

The Arts & The Role They Play

As shown in previous posts of our Connecting the Dots: Health as Art series, the arts can take many forms. Our earliest ancestors utilized art to make sense of the world, and we have since learned how to draw upon our senses to better understand ourselves, others, and the places we call home. From music and dance to drama and storytelling, the arts create a platform in which communities communicate, learn, and connect with one another.

Fundamental to holistic health and well-being is social-emotional learning – the process in which we develop and apply self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. By utilizing different art forms to both communicate and connect, we can work towards connecting the dots between social, emotional, and physical health and establish lifelong healthy habits that help us to feel our best.

Connecting the Dots

Research shows that the arts play a role in promoting healthy living across multiple areas by increasing access and awareness. Arts venues can be used for supporting people with unmet health needs through arts-in-health interventions such as reading for mental health[i]. Additionally, arts-based community programs have been shown to increase engagement with health services of young parents in urban settings[ii]. School-based arts programs have been found to support children in better understanding mental health[iii] and community-based programs have been linked to improved personal accountability for health and well-being by bridging tensions between public health officials and community members[iv]. In addition to increasing access and awareness, the arts play a role in promoting healthy living, reducing health-related stigma, and engaging hard-to-reach groups.


The arts promote healthy living. Research has shown that drama and theater-based programs may:  

  • Improve enjoyment of and participation in healthy eating and physical activity[v]
  • Improve children’s nutritional knowledge and healthy eating attitudes[vi]
  • Increase awareness of the dangers of substance misuse[vii] and reduce use in adolescents[viii]
  • Combat anti-vaccine misinformation[ix] and educate children about personal hygiene[x] through storytelling


The arts may reduce health-related stigma. Research has shown that the arts may:

  • Improve mental health literacy, empathy, and inclusion through school-based art programs[xi][xii]
  • Improve attitudes towards mental health through arts festivals[xiii]
  • Increase perceived collective efficacy within communities to improve mental health care[xiv]
  • Promote broader health equity, particularly within the LGBTQIA+ community[xv], and improve parental attitudes towards children who identify as LGBTQIA+[xvi]


The arts are effective in engaging marginalized communities and hard-to-reach groups. Research has shown that the arts may:

  • Increase children’s self-esteem, resilience, skills development, empowerment, and social network through trust-building between children in foster care or in contact with social care and/or social workers[xvii]
  • Reduce isolation and increase community engagement among vulnerable populations facing homelessness through relationship and trust-building with the broader community[xviii]
  • Support affirmation of identity for people who identify as LGBTQIA+[xix]
  • Support the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers through dance[xx] and improve coping skills of children of injured military personnel through creative arts activities[xxi]
  • Improve behavioral regulation, increase academic performance and family functioning[xxii][xxiii], along with improved social skills, coping skills, and self-esteem for juvenile offenders[xxiv]


When we look at health from a whole-child (or whole-person) perspective, we begin to understand that it is all connected. The ways in which we fuel our bodies physically (through nutrition, movement, and hydration), socially (through connection and a sense of belonging), and emotionally (through reflection, learning, and dreaming) are more than just a checklist of healthy habits we commit to. They are the paintbrushes or tools we use to create an ever-changing work of art – learning and reflecting, growing, and evolving. The masterpiece that is everything that makes you – you.

This post is a part of Connecting the Dots: Health as Art. Learn more about how the arts improve social determinants of health, support child development, and foster connectedness.

Discover new activities that connect the dots between social-emotional health, physical activity, and nutrition through art at school and at home with the Connecting the Dots: Health as Art Toolkit!


[i] Fancourt D, Finn S. What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review [Internet]. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2019. (Health Evidence Network synthesis report, No. 67.) 2. RESULTS. Available from:

[ii] Jersky M, Titmuss A, Haswell M, Freeman N, Osborne P, Callaghan L. Improving health service access and wellbeing of young Aboriginal parents in an urban setting: mixed methods evaluation of an arts-based program Aust N Z J Public Health. 201640suppl 1S11521 doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12448

[iii] McKay FH, McKenzie H. Using art for health promotion: evaluating an in-school program through student perspectives Health Promot Pract. 201819452230 doi: 10.1177/1524839917735076

[iv] Ruthven JS. Making it personal: ideology, the arts, and shifting registers in health promotion AIDS Care. 201628suppl 47282 doi: 10.1080/09540121.2016.1195485

[v] Jones M, Kimberlee R, Deave T, Evans S. The role of community centre-based arts, leisure and social activities in promoting adult well-being and healthy lifestyles Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2013105194862 doi: 10.3390/ijerph10051948

[vi] Bush R, Capra S, Box S, McCallum D, Khalil S, Ostini R. An integrated theatre production for school nutrition promotion program Children (Basel). 20185335 doi: 10.3390/children5030035

[vii] Starkey F, Orme J. Evaluation of a primary school drug drama project: methodological issues and key findings Health Ed Res. 200116560922 doi: 10.1093/her/16.5.609

[viii] Quek LH, White A, Low C, Brown J, Dalton N, Dow D, et al. Good choices, great future: an applied theatre prevention program to reduce alcohol-related risky behaviours during Schoolies Drug Alcohol Rev. 2012317897902 doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2012.00453.x

[ix] Shelby A, Ernst K. Story and science: how providers and parents can utilize storytelling to combat anti-vaccine misinformation Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2013981795801 doi: 10.4161/hv.24828

[x] Soleymani MR, Hemmati S, Ashrafi-Rizi H, Shahrzadieymani L. Comparison of the effects of storytelling and creative drama methods on children’s awareness about personal hygiene J Educ Health Promot. 2017682 doi: 10.4103/jehp.jehp_56_16

[xi] Campos L, Dias P, Duarte A, Veiga E, Dias CC, Palha F. Is it possible to “find space for mental health” in young people? Effectiveness of a school-based mental health literacy promotion program Int J Environ Res Public Health. 20181571426 doi: 10.3390/ijerph15071426

[xii] Twardzicki M. Challenging stigma around mental illness and promoting social inclusion using the performing arts. J R Soc Promot Health. 2008;128(2):68–72. PMID: 18402176.

[xiii] Quinn N, Shulman A, Knifton L, Byrne P. The impact of a national mental health arts and film festival on stigma and recovery Acta Psychiatr Scand. 201112317181 doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.2010.01573.x

[xiv] Chung B, Jones L, Jones A, Corbett CE, Booker T, Wells KB, et al. Using community arts events to enhance collective efficacy and community engagement to address depression in an African American community Am J Public Health. 200999223744 doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2008.141408

[xv] Quinn N, Shulman A, Knifton L, Byrne P. The impact of a national mental health arts and film festival on stigma and recovery Acta Psychiatr Scand. 201112317181 doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.2010.01573.x

[xvi] Huebner DM, Rullo JE, Thoma BC, McGarrity L, Mackenzie J. Piloting Lead with Love: a film-based intervention to improve parents’ responses to their lesbian, gay, and bisexual children J Prim Prev. 201334535969 doi: 10.1007/s10935-013-0319-y

[xvii] Kelly BL, Doherty L. A historical overview of art and music-based activities in social work with groups: nondeliberative practice and engaging young people’s strengths Soc Work Groups. 2017403187201 doi: 10.1080/01609513.2015.1091700

[xviii] Spiegel JB, Ortiz Choukroun B, Campaña A, Boydell KM, Breilh J, Yassi A. Social transformation, collective health and community-based arts: “Buen Vivir” and Ecuador’s social circus programme Glob Public Health. 2018146–7899922 doi: 10.1080/17441692.2018.1504102

[xix] Boggan CE, Grzanka PR, Bain CL. Perspectives on queer music therapy: a qualitative analysis of music therapists’ reactions to radically inclusive practice J Music Ther. 2018544375404 doi: 10.1093/jmt/thx016

[xx] Bowman J. “Wounded warriors”: Royal Danish Ballet dancers train repatriated wounded soldiers in Pilates Arts Health. 20157216171 doi: 10.1080/17533015.2014.998245

[xxi] Rollins J, King E. Promoting coping for children of hospitalized service members with combat injuries through creative arts engagement Arts Health. 20157210922 doi: 10.1080/17533015.2015.1019707

[xxii] Rapp-Paglicci L, Stewart C, Rowe W. Improving outcomes for at-risk youth: findings from the Prodigy Cultural Arts Program J Evid Based Soc Work. 20129551223 doi: 10.1080/15433714.2011.581532

[xxiii] Bittman B, Dickson L, Coddington K. Creative musical expression as a catalyst for quality-of-life improvement in inner-city adolescents placed in a court-referred residential treatment program. Adv Mind Body Med. 2009;24(1):8–19. PMID: 20671333.

[xxiv] Daykin N, de Viggiani N, Pilkington P, Moriarty Y. Music making for health, well-being and behaviour change in youth justice settings: a systematic review Health Promot Int. 2012282197210 doi: 10.1093/heapro/das005