objective. to identify the theoretical conceptions of health education (he) reported by recent scientific literature. methodology. systematic review without meta-analysis of the scientific literature published on the theory on he between 2000 and 2010 in spanish, english, and portuguese in pubmed, elsevier, and scielo. this included publications developing at least the theoretical categories on he: conceptual development, history, current situation, as discipline, teaching and research. results. some 58 articles on he were analyzed. the main categories contained in the articles were those of current situation and conceptual development. the definition and conceptualization of he are diffuse. most authors state that the term he lacks identity and that tension exists between this concept and that of healthcare promotion. conclusion. processes in he are not sufficiently qualified.