School-based peer education interventions to improve health: a global systematic review of effectiveness

BMC Public Health. 2022 Dec 2;22(1):2247. doi: 10.1186/s12889-022-14688-3.


Introduction: Peer education, whereby peers ('peer educators') teach their other peers ('peer learners') about aspects of health is an approach growing in popularity across school contexts, possibly due to adolescents preferring to seek help for health-related concerns from their peers rather than adults or professionals. Peer education interventions cover a wide range of health areas but their overall effectiveness remains unclear. This review aims to summarise the effectiveness of existing peer-led health interventions implemented in schools worldwide.

Methods: Five electronic databases were searched for eligible studies in October 2020. To be included, studies must have evaluated a school-based peer education intervention designed to address the health of students aged 11-18-years-old and include quantitative outcome data to examine effectiveness. The number of interventions were summarised and the impact on improved health knowledge and reductions in health problems or risk-taking behaviours were investigated for each health area separately, the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool was used to assess quality.

Results: A total of 2125 studies were identified after the initial search and 73 articles were included in the review. The majority of papers evaluated interventions focused on sex education/HIV prevention (n = 23), promoting healthy lifestyles (n = 17) and alcohol, smoking and substance use (n = 16). Papers mainly reported peer learner outcomes (67/73, 91.8%), with only six papers (8.2%) focussing solely on peer educator outcomes and five papers (6.8%) examining both peer learner and peer educator outcomes. Of the 67 papers reporting peer learner outcomes, 35/67 (52.2%) showed evidence of effectiveness, 8/67 (11.9%) showed mixed findings and 24/67 (35.8%) found limited or no evidence of effectiveness. Of the 11 papers reporting peer educator outcomes, 4/11 (36.4%) showed evidence of effectiveness, 2/11 (18.2%) showed mixed findings and 5/11 (45.5%) showed limited or no evidence of effectiveness. Study quality varied greatly with many studies rated as poor quality, mainly due to unrepresentative samples and incomplete data.

Discussion: School-based peer education interventions are implemented worldwide and span a wide range of health areas. A number of interventions appear to demonstrate evidence for effectiveness, suggesting peer education may be a promising strategy for health improvement in schools. Improvement in health-related knowledge was most common with less evidence for positive health behaviour change. In order to quantitatively synthesise the evidence and make more confident conclusions, there is a need for more robust, high-quality evaluations of peer-led interventions using standardised health knowledge and behaviour measures.

Keywords: Adolescents; Peer education; School health; School-based interventions; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Educational Status
  • Humans
  • Peer Group*
  • Schools*
  • Sex Education
  • Students