What is health?
Health educators and promoters need to be clear in their
understanding of what health is, what aspect of health is
being promoted and the ways in which health is affected
by wider influences than individual behaviour. Individuals
have different ideas of what being healthy means
to them so it is important to explore the meaning of
‘being healthy’ and what it means to both you and
your patients. Our ideas of ‘health’ and ‘being healthy’
will vary widely and will be affected by past experiences,
knowledge, values, expectations, lifestyle and present
situations. It is therefore clear that it is difficult to provide
a concise answer.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines health as ‘the
state of being well in body and mind’. Seedhouse (1991)
has proposed the idea of health as the foundation for
achieving a person’s realistic potential, enabling people
to fulfil their own potential. He stated that it is about
empowering people and enabling them to become all
that they are capable of becoming. The World Health
Organization (WHO) defines health as ‘a state of complete
physical, mental and social well-being and not
merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. It is also
defined more narrowly as the absence of illness (Alban
and Christiansen, 1995). The WHO proposes a concept of
health as the extent to which an individual or group is
able, on the one hand, to realise aspirations and satisfy
needs, and on the other, to change or cope with the
environment. Health is therefore seen as a resource for
everyday life, not the object of living; it is a positive concept
emphasising social and personal resources, as well
as physical capacities.
In contrast to health, disease can be defined as some
pathology or abnormality which exists in the body and is
capable of detection. Illness on the other hand is the
state of being ill and is the subjective experience of loss of
health (symptoms). Ill health can be described as the
experience of disease plus illness.
What is clear is that ill health does not happen by
chance or through bad luck. The Lalonde Report, published
in Canada in 1974, was influential in identifying
four ‘fields’ in which health could be promoted:
■ Genetic and biological factors which determine an
individual’s predisposition to disease.
■ Lifestyle factors in which health behaviours, such as
smoking, contribute to disease.
■ Environmental factors, such as housing or pollution.
■ The extent and nature of health services.
A range of factors influences people’s health. Naturally,
these factors need to be addressed other than by education