The Definition of Health


A good definition of health is one that does not only encompass the absence of disease but also takes into account age and environment. The definition of good health for people living at sea level may not apply to a mountain dweller. A mountain person may suffer from shortness of breath and anemia while living at sea level. The definition of health for an entire nation must be flexible and allow for changes in the environment. For example, a mountain dweller may have heart attacks if they are shovelling snow, and an urban dweller might suffer from shortness of breath and anemia if they have to climb a mountain.

While disease is often easily defined and quantified, health is not that easy to define. A simple rash, for example, could be defined as a healthy response. A more severe reaction could result in anaphylactic shock and even coma. Health, in contrast, is an abstract concept, and a nebulous concept. This makes it difficult to measure, define, and improve. For this reason, it is essential that health be defined according to individual circumstances.

The physical and social environment have a huge influence on one’s health. Environmental factors include clean air and water, affordable housing, safe communities, and safe roads. Health is directly influenced by the way we live, including our diet and exercise, and other factors. We cannot ignore the importance of social and economic conditions, as they can make or break a person’s well-being. However, inequity in these factors can cause illness.

Another definition of health is ‘complete health’. Having complete wellbeing at all times is unrealistic. Very few people will achieve that state of health. It is also counterproductive, as it fails to consider chronic illnesses and disabilities. Furthermore, this definition is a false construct, contributing to the overmedicalisation of society. For this reason, it is essential to have a holistic view of health. There are many ways to define health, and we can choose the one that best suits us.

The WHO supports other members of the UN family. The Economic and Social Council, General Assembly, and United Nations Population Fund address various health issues. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) addresses issues affecting people’s health. The United Nations Population Fund, on the other hand, supports efforts in maternal, adolescent, and child health. Finally, the United Nations Children’s Fund supports activities that promote health. In short, there is no shortage of ways to promote health and well-being.

Mental health and physical health are intrinsically linked. Evidence of the relationship has accumulated in recent decades, challenging the historical notion of mind-body duality. The mechanisms that facilitate the association of the two are behavioural, social, and physiological, and have a bi-directional nature. As a result, mental health is an important part of overall health. But defining physical health and mental health is more complex. So how can we assess our health?