Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a state of full physical, mental and emotional well-being and not just the absence of sickness and disease. A variety of cultural definitions have also been employed over the years. The dictionary definition is, “health means having well-balanced bodily processes, healthy organs, and a capacity to attain and sustain reasonable mental and emotional well-being through the orderly process of natural selection.” It goes on to define health in clinical terms as, “the quality of the physical environment and its maintenance that enables the maintenance of a normal range of behavior in people affected by human disabilities.”
The current definition of health is widely considered an essential aspect of quality of life. It is a state of well-being with respect to aspects such as life expectancy, functional capacity, health status, prosperity, work satisfaction, social support, and community connections. Health equity is particularly important in the United States, where the practices of health care, research and education regarding health and medical topics differ markedly from those of other countries. For example, in the United States there are enormous differences in the way that health is evaluated, presented, and promoted. As a result of these differences, there are substantial health equity issues that need to be addressed by health care professionals, public policy, educators and other individuals who can impact upon the health and well being of all persons.
One major factor in defining well-being is the ability to determine appropriate criteria for what is considered a normal range. These criteria are then used to draw a contrast between those with good health and those with poor health. Factors associated with both extremes of the healthy spectrum include, but are not limited to, the age, sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographic location, health conditions and medical care utilization. Health determinants are used to provide guidance in promoting good health, preventing morbidity and mortality, maintaining healthy relationships and enhancing the quality of life. This article briefly reviews some well-known determinants.
The first and third definition above pertain to “healthy relationships” or “affective relationships”. Healthy relationships are characterized by strong bonds that facilitate the people involved to take control of their health and pursue healthy behaviors. They are also frequently reciprocal. For example, couples who have strong and effective cooperative relationships and who are able to manage stress and strain do much better at maintaining healthy outcomes than couples who experience little or no relationship satisfaction, high conflict and high levels of stress and strain. Similarly, healthy relationships that emphasize the maintenance of good self-care and the encouragement of friends and family are also more likely to provide the support necessary for overall wellness.
The second and third definition are concerned with physical characteristics such as age, sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and geographic location. These components are associated with the presence of underlying disease. For instance, people who are middle-aged and who are married tend to have a higher income, better health, and better physical health than those who are single and unmarried. Likewise, people who are middle-aged and who are employed tend to have better health, greater job security and better life expectancy than those who are unemployed and unattached.
The fourth and fifth definition relate to medical care. Health involves both medical care and the physical environment in which health occurs. People who are healthy are able to engage in a wide range of healthy activities such as physical fitness, relaxation, sleep, and social interaction. They have positive relationships with their families, friends and work colleagues. Health is also affected by the mental health that people experience. A person who feels well is able to perform his or her day to day tasks with greater confidence than one who feels poorly.