A Defining Health Gap
Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a condition that “precludes death or illness.” A number of definitions have also been applied for various purposes over the years. These definitions vary depending on the country from which one comes and the beliefs of that country’s people. The United States Department of Health and Human Services divides health into six categories, which are described as functional capacity, physical ability, community safety, integrated care, genetic health, and health education and knowledge.
The definition of “healthy” is something that has been in discussion for as long as the medical model of well-being has existed. According to this model, individuals who live in societies with a strong sense of community and social responsibility are likely to live longer, experience less sickness, and contract fewer diseases. On the other hand, those who do not have such institutions are thought to live poorly, get sicker, and contract more diseases. The debate over the definition of “well-being” goes on. But one thing that most experts do agree upon is that there is a human right to the quality of life that should be available to all without compromising other aspects of society and life itself.
A healthy life is one in which people can attain the maximum use of their resources without contracting the illness. A major part of this involves investing in health care so that people can live with minimal stress and with maximum access to quality health systems. This can only be realized with the active involvement of the people in their own health systems.
The idea that there is a moral imperative to strive for healthy physical and mental wellbeing goes against a lot of conventional thinking. Most people work on the presumption that illness means constraint of one’s liberty. People with poor health are considered to be unable to act or make choices on their own, a view that does not accord them any dignity as a human being. In order to gain access to health services, people are made to feel that illness is equivalent to the limitation of one’s choices. It is this logic that has led to people with chronic illnesses being denied necessary health care and the social respect that would normally follow such provision.
However, despite all the arguments against having a healthy body and mind, the definition of health has to start from the assumption that we all have the capacity to do so. There are those in society who feel that it is their duty to make sure that they give their children a good education, that they feed their children well, and that they get a job that pays their bills. If these goals are not met, then some people argue that there is no point to living at all. In essence, to define health is to define happiness.
When looking at the various determinants of health, it becomes clear that there are many other factors that come into play. All this calls for an approach that goes beyond the definition of “being healthy”. For example, a person’s level of attractiveness has a lot to do with whether they will feel happy and confident or be self-conscious and insecure, even if their overall health is excellent. The challenge is to find ways to bring the social determinants of health within the personal equation as well – by making physical activity and exercising a socially desirable activity, for example.