A Short List of Defining Health Policies
Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a condition that “is not only the absence of illness and infirmity but the balanced and normal functioning of all the components of health.” Different definitions have also been used over the years for various purposes. However, health is a primary concern for most Americans. We take our health very seriously and exercise regularly. More often than not, we are also aware of the basics of healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, and preventive care.
Although this is the case, there are some conditions that technically fall under the definition of “disease” but which are not diseases at all. These would include such things as: the common cold, the flu, pneumonia, anorexia nervosa, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and a host of others. It is these that should be defined by a different definition of “disease.” The problem with many current definitions, after all, is that the absence of a certain disease may indicate a lack of some of the fundamental constituents of health – such as nutrition, active participation, and other aspects.
There are two other health concepts that are often applied to diseases: the first is the third definition, which states that disease has no definitive cure. Although the third definition does leave room for some speculation as to what causes diseases, it also makes it clear that a cure is not necessarily forthcoming. As such, it has long been recognized that, while the disease may be inevitable, there are numerous preventable ways in which one can fight it. The idea of a “definitive cure” seems, at first glance, to contradict this notion. However, the truth is that most, if not all, diseases can be treated or prevented.
The second definition of “disease” refers to that process by which a disease is managed or controlled. The focus of this definition, again, tends to be on the life course of a person’s health: that is, how he or she progresses through life. For example, as we age, the possibility of developing serious health problems (such as cancer) becomes higher. Health management, therefore, refers to the process by which we try to keep on top of various diseases – both to identify them as we experience them, and to help those who are already sick get well. It is often realized, therefore, that health management is also included within the life course of a person – so that when a health issue is noted early, steps can be taken to address it.
Of course, many definitions of health have considered disease as something that takes place at birth, when a person is created. Thus, the first definition of “disease” would be that all conditions that are seen in the general population at birth are seen at all times. This was not always true, however; conditions such as leukemia were not regarded as diseases at first. As more information about the causes and prevention of these conditions became available, the definition of disease changed to more closely match what is seen with the general population. As the years have gone by, and new diseases have continued to be created, these definitions have once again become broader.
Some definitions of health policy have attempted to create a simple, single definition that can be adapted to any circumstances. For instance, the World Health Organization (WHO) define a disease as any condition that leads to death or disability. While this policy provides an overall umbrella for the types of diseases that can occur, the WHO uses a particular definition for each disease that can potentially lead to death. A more descriptively stated policy might be one that defines “pneumonia” as leading to death or disability due to inhalation of a foreign body. Such a policy could be used, for example, to create classifications that would prevent the spread of influenza.