Understanding the Concept of Health in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Health is a complex concept and definitions for health are as diverse as people themselves. These perspectives are influenced by a variety of factors, including personal experiences, cultural backgrounds, and values.

The term “health” can be used to describe the state of being free of disease or infirmity, but more often it is considered as a state of complete physical mental and social well-being. Several nation states have included the right to health in their constitutions and are legally obliged to ensure that people have access to quality health services and the conditions for well-being.

In 1948, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Since then, many different approaches to understanding health have been developed.

Some approaches are more biological or scientific, while others emphasize societal issues and factors such as socioeconomic status, education level, race/ethnicity, and gender. Still others focus on how individual behavior and lifestyle choices can influence health.

Regardless of these differences, it is important to recognize that there are limits to what can be assessed and measured when trying to understand what health actually means. The complexity of the concept makes it a difficult one to define and measure.

A defining feature of the COVID-19 pandemic has been its global interconnectedness. The impact of the virus on human health and wellbeing is not only related to individual physical, mental, and emotional well-being but also to pre-existing inequities based on race/ethnicity, income, and disability and how these are amplified by the current situation.

It is therefore vital that we think about the concept of health in a broader context to support people during this challenging time. This broader view of health opens up new ways to assess a person’s ability to cope with and manage life circumstances and their environment.

The emergence of the health promotion movement in the 1980s reflected this shift towards thinking about health as process rather than a static state. It is an approach that focuses on helping individuals realize their aspirations, meet their needs and develop resilience in managing the environment.

A recent qualitative study (Zahra et al, 2017) of lay people’s perceptions of health and the determinants of health showed that they were consistent with the view that the environment is the most significant factor in shaping a person’s health.

Changing behaviours to improve one’s health can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. It is possible to start with a small step and build on it over time. This is a strategy advocated by BJ Fogg in his book Tiny Habits. For example, if you want to get more exercise, try starting by walking for 30 minutes a day. Then, as you become more comfortable with that commitment, increase the duration and frequency of your walks. The goal is to keep moving, feel the benefits of physical activity, and help reduce your risk for developing chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.