Environment and Individual Behavior
Health, according to the World Health Organization,is “the condition of being fit and healthy with maximum capacity to carry out the body’s functions”. Different definitions have been employed over time for various purposes. In the United States, we use the term healthy to refer to the capacity of the body to function normally, without constraint. Another group of health professionals distinguish between healthy and unhealthy. Some other professionals use the terms healthy and unhealthy differently.
The definition of healthy has changed over time in relation to the definition of the individual behavior and responsibility for health services. An individual who is healthy can take part in community activities, sports, and can have access to healthy foods. He can also be involved in recreational sports and can have reasonable access to good quality health services. In short, an individual who is healthy has the capacity to get along with others and does not suffer from major social factors that lead to unhealthy living. The groupings that constitute a community can have healthy relationships and can have access to a range of quality health services.
It is important to recognize that healthy people tend to live longer than those who are unhealthy, which indicates that there are some healthy habits that can promote good health. In the United States, a healthy life style has been viewed as having a good physical status, regular exercise, resting and avoiding tobacco use and other forms of addictive substance use, maintaining a good nutritional status, and avoiding the risks of common diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Individuals who have incorporated these lifestyle habits into their lives have shown to have a decreased incidence of common diseases. These individuals were also found to have longer life expectancies.
The major components of a healthy lifestyle are good nutrition and regular exercise, which are incorporated into an overall program of health promotion or disease prevention. Nutritional guidelines include eating a balanced diet that provides for the daily energy requirements of an individual, consuming foods rich in fiber and nutrients, including protein and carbohydrates. A nutrient-dense diet is better for maintaining a healthy weight and can reduce the risk of developing a variety of diseases and conditions. Exercise is another key factor in health promotion or disease prevention, which strengthens the muscle tissues and improves the function of the immune system.
In the United States, there are many environmental factors that affect health and this has been recognized as one of the determinants of overall health. A number of environmental factors, which have been identified, include air pollution, smoking, household dust, ultraviolet radiation from the sun and chemicals found in food. In addition, stress and depression can also play a role in determining the condition of an individual. A combination of these environmental factors, particularly the exposure to toxins and stress, are believed to play a role in promoting or resulting in poor health status.
Other factors that have been associated with an individual behavior are the home environment, family history and social environments. A variety of studies have demonstrated the influence of family history on health, and a high number of individuals who suffer from obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other chronic health disorders often have a history of obesity, depression or stress. Social environments are made up of the neighborhoods in which an individual lives and works, as well as the social networks that people participate in, for example, church or club activities. It is important to take into account the influence of these social factors when studying the relationship between environmental determinants and health status. Although the focus of this book is on the determinants of health, it is important to recognize that there are numerous other influences, some of which are beyond the scope of this book and research.