What are the different definitions of health?

The WHO defines health as a state of "complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with a number of WHO partners, endorse this definition. Being healthy, in their view, excludes having any disease. Maslow's hierarchy of individual needs has been widely used as a way of interpreting the WHO definition of health as a state of physical, social and mental well-being.

The implication of functioning in the definition of health would be reflected in the definition of health promotion as a process by which the coping capacity of individuals is improved and strengthened, for example through regular and compulsory physical exercise. However, a common theme that has emerged from the various definitions of wellbeing is that of "feeling good and functioning well". This definition promoted for the first time that, in addition to physical and mental health, social well-being is an integral component of general health, because health is closely linked to the social environment and to living and working conditions. The drift of redefinitions has tended to encompass conditions of health problems that were previously considered to be within the range of normality or at least outside the realm of medicine, illness and health.

The definitions of health presented here are also understood as navigational tools to be applied in the online environment. It is consistent with definitions of health that emphasise the importance of adaptation, as described above (Definition of health and well-being). The FPH definition of mental well-being is synonymous with the WHO's holistic and positive definition of health, and the positive psychology approach advocated by Seligman (2000). It is one of the first books to compile and interweave the varied influences of pessimistic thinking, love, faith, attitudes, beliefs, moods, feelings of helplessness, social bonds and thoughts on health, thus redefining the scope of health definitions in the growing tradition of mind-body relationships.

Definitions of health obviously reflect socially and culturally constructed and tentative categories. The definition was proposed by Dr. Andrija Štampar, a leading Croatian academic in the field of social medicine and public health and one of the founders of the WHO. Many see this as a limitation of broader definitions of health, as wellbeing is neither objective nor measurable; this is discussed in more detail below (Mental health and wellbeing).

Just as there was a shift from considering illness as a state to thinking of it as a process, the same shift occurred in definitions of health. This review of the debates on redefining health provides a historical perspective on the divine notions of health still prevalent in the world's religions and the struggle within the health and social sciences to arrive at a more humanistic and adaptive definition that takes into account variations that depend on age, culture and the balance of personal and community responsibility. This interdisciplinary group of public health experts criticised the WHO definition of health and proposed shifting the emphasis from "complete physical, mental and social health to the capacity for adaptation and self-management in the face of social, physical and emotional challenges".

Erika Ossenfort
Erika Ossenfort

Hipster-friendly food fan. Professional pop culture advocate. Freelance internet ninja. Devoted web fan. Extreme music evangelist.

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