Health, according to the World Health Organization, has “begun at the dawn of human evolution and has withstood the transformations throughout the ages.” A wide variety of definitions have also been used over the years for various purposes. For most people the definition of health is quite similar, however, there are a few variations between countries and societies. In this article we will look at some common themes that are shared by many health-related concepts, and consider what they mean to you.
The first and most common definition is that of a “disease”. This is the most common of all health concepts, and is also the simplest to describe, as something that is perceived to be “wrong”. In modern times, however, the word disease has become associated with certain types of conditions or behaviours, which are regarded as symptomatic of a disease in some way. Thus, whereas diseases are the focus of much of medical research and treatment, the focus on wellness and prevention is becoming more widely accepted across the world.
The second definition is to mean the prevention of health problems. This is often seen in combination with the first definition, as being able to “prevent” something is seen to be an ability to handle risk. So, for example, the best possible thing you can do to prevent heart disease is to simply stay physically active, and cut down on your high consumption of salt, and saturated fats. But even if you choose to follow these steps, you still run a risk of getting heart disease. Diseases are known to run in families, so it’s important that you learn as much as you can about prevention, so that if you do contract any such diseases, you can do something about them.
The third definition, which is closely related to the first one, is to mean the absence of a disease. In this case, health would be considered to be “absence of” disease, rather than the presence of one. It is thought that if there was no such thing as heart disease, then the incidence of heart disease wouldn’t be as high as it is today, and so there would be less people suffering from such diseases. However, even if there were no such diseases as heart disease, the fact that the lack of such disease wouldn’t necessarily lead to absence of health problems doesn’t undermine the significance of this definition.
These definitions are not mutually exclusive. It’s clear that some conditions are strongly linked with other definitions, and so it makes sense that when thinking about defining health, you should consider the broader contexts too. So if you want to look at your own health, then the most comprehensive definition of health you should use is the one which draws all the definitions together, and says that a healthy body is the sum of a healthy mind and a healthy spirit. The other definitions might suggest that you have to think about the definition of a healthy body in different ways. So if you are looking at a modern definition of health, for example, then you might want to use the wording suggested above, and consider the implications of each.
There is another definition which emphasises the importance of the risk factors, which includes both health and absence of health. This third definition avoids defining diseases as absence of health, because health is actually inherently absent from absence of disease, so the two cannot exist in the same sentence. The risk factors are important in defining health because they add to the definition of a healthy body. In absence of risk factors, there would be no definition of health, because health is something that has to be measured. So it is important to add the risk factors to the list.