Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a condition of “complete physical, mental and emotional well being” and not simply the absence of illness and infirmity. A number of definitions have also been used over time with varying degrees of consistency. Some people might consider this condition to be synonymous with being healthy, which would be an understandable desire for anyone who has any level of self-respect. However, there are also a significant number of people who consider “health” to mean a subjective state that involves the acceptance of the fact that you are whole and healthy inside. The debate between these two views will no doubt continue for a very long time.
In order to understand what impacts health, it is useful to examine some of the most important social determinants of health. Social determinants of health include attitudes toward health, social capital, health information and knowledge, and health insurance. The first three factors are typically associated with personal characteristics such as self-esteem and confidence. People who are more self-assessing and self-aware are likely to be healthier and less stressed. Those who are socially aware and socially adept are more likely to have positive interpersonal relationships and to know their health information and status, and they are less stressed and more apt to make wise health decisions.
Health promotion and public health cannot succeed without a comprehensive strategy. This strategy must take into account a variety of social determinants of health. At the planning phase of health promotion, it is important to pay attention to such factors as race/ethnicity, poverty and gender.
Public education and health promotion efforts must be based on addressing the complex issues of health discrimination. Health information and instruction programs that do not specifically address racism and other forms of societal discrimination are incomplete. It is important that health education be equated with racism education. This is especially important for the reduction of racial and ethnic disparities in health. Programs that promote healthy lifestyles and physical fitness while concurrently educating the public about their psychological well-being contribute greatly to reducing health disparities.
In addition, programs that address the psychological well-being can also help communities improve health and reduce health disparities. For example, programs that address family practices and home violence can help communities prevent the formation of poor nutritional environments and patterns of domestic violence. These conditions can worsen health disparities due to higher rates of childhood death and illness, substance abuse, and incarceration. Similarly, a program that helps communities develop community response systems to coordinate services to provide improved access to quality health services and facilitate recovery can help reduce health disparities. The introduction of coordinated community health programs can help to improve health and decrease health disparities by improving the health and the social outcomes of those affected by diseases or conditions.
Decreasing health disparities can be accomplished through policies and programs that address the sources of differential health impacts. The primary drivers of health disparities are unhealthy lifestyle choices and inadequate attention to physical fitness and nutrition. These policies and programs can be developed to ensure that poor and minority families have the same opportunities for physical fitness and nutrition as other American families. These policies and programs can also reduce health disparities by promoting better health behaviors. The incorporation of greater personal responsibility for health has helped to decrease health disparities by improving access to quality health care and public awareness of good health practices.