Definitions of Health and Determinants of Health

A person’s health is the state of their emotional, mental and physical well-being. People use healthcare to help them stay healthy and prevent disease and illness. Health is a complex and dynamic phenomenon, with a great deal of individual variation in the way that people think about and perceive it. This article explores some of the different ways that people have viewed health over time, and how this relates to their own lives.

A common view of health is that it is merely the absence of disease. This definition, however, ignores the fact that some diseases are not yet understood and therefore cannot be eliminated completely. This type of definition also disregards the impact that an individual’s lifestyle can have on their health.

Another definition of health is that it is a “functioning system” – meaning that an individual’s body and mind are able to function in a way that allows them to meet the challenges of daily life. This approach is based on the idea that an individual is only considered healthy when they can perform tasks such as work, play and care for their family in a reasonable manner. It is important to note that this definition does not exclude an individual who has a disease or disability, which may be caused by their age, injury or genetic disorder.

Modern definitions of health have moved away from the medical model, which views health as a condition where only disease is absent. A more recent model, the biopsychosocial model, sees health as the result of interactions between the physiological, psychological and social factors of an individual’s life. This model considers the effect that these interactions have on an individual’s ability to achieve their goals and aspirations, as well as to adapt to and cope with their environment.

Several researchers have studied lay people’s perceptions of health and the determinants of health, including Fugelli et al (24) who interviewed people living in different sites and situations across Norway. They found that the lay perspective on health appears to be characterized by three qualities: wholeness, pragmatism and individualism. Wholeness refers to the notion that health is a holistic phenomenon, that is, a feeling of being complete or a sense of being in balance with one’s life situation. This includes being able to fulfil family, working and other duties in an acceptable manner, as well as to live according to one’s own personal values.

Pragmatism refers to the idea that an individual’s concept of health is a reflection of their own particular circumstances and is subject to change in light of changing conditions. For example, if an individual who lives at sea level has to move to a higher elevation they will probably experience shortness of breath and anemia until their red blood cell count adjusts to the new environment. In addition, an individual who experiences a disease or injury might develop a new belief that their health is compromised by the event.