Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a condition “of full physical, mental and emotional well-being with no limitations.” Over time various definitions have been utilized for various purposes. The most common modern definition, from the American Psychological Association and the World Health Organization is “a healthy way of living that prevents chronic disease, improves life expectancy, and reduces risk of death.” The primary definition from the WHO is “excess of disease or impairment and the absence of death or serious morbidity caused by diseases.” In general, health is seen as a state of being capable of handling given resources and prepared for the unexpected.
A very important component of good health is good health behaviors or habits. These are what most commonly used health information communication tools are meant to support. These include the common ones such as eating a balanced diet, getting the recommended amount of sleep, exercising regularly, and having regular medical checkups. The more generalized health behaviors are also useful such as taking daily nutritional supplements, avoiding too much alcohol or tobacco, and participating in social health campaigns.
Many factors affect health and the ability to attain wellness. In recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis placed on factors beyond age as important contributors to overall health and well-being. These include social determinants, such as ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and the population’s history of health care and attitudes toward health. These factors are now widely considered important influences on health behaviors.
There is a new Australian federal government report that seeks to acknowledge the complexity of health determinants and consider their influences on Australian society. This is based on the assumption that race and ethnicity are among the most influential factors of health differences. According to this conceptual framework, there are four major categories of factors. These are genetics, socio-cultural factors, lifestyle and environment and behaviour and environment. Although the classification is complex, the study suggests that genetics and environment are important determinants of health. These categories of factors are biologically influenced and socially influenced.
Environment and behaviour are considered to be amongst the broadest determinants. They influence people’s lifestyles, beliefs, attitudes and decisions in health promotion. It is important to consider that some environmental and lifestyle factors have a greater impact than others. The presence and concentration of these factors at any level can and do have an effect on health promotion strategies.
This year, the ABS released three reports that explore various dimensions of health and the role of social determinants in shaping health outcomes. The first one, Australia’s Health in the Looking Glass, examines the role of genetics and other socially determined factors. It explores how social determinants shape health outcomes for the population as a whole and for the different states within Australia. The second one is the ABS’ Health and Vehicle Status Project, which seeks to understand the drivers of health status (i.e. health, vehicle status and demographics) through time.