Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is an “uneven condition of the body that may lead to death or disability” and “the prevention of death and disability brought about by any cause”. Various definitions have been applied to health throughout the years. The word “disease” has always been part of the equation. Death and disability are also included in the definition. For the most part, the word “disease” was used to describe illness and injury and was used to motivate people towards prevention. Today, as more people are becoming aware of the dangers of various diseases, “disease” has become a less important component in defining health.
What is being lost when people define health in terms of illness and death? Life expectancy, which is a measure of living longer in today’s world, has declined steadily over the past half-century. In addition, while illness has become more common, leading to a greater loss of life expectancy, disability has become more common. Both illness and death are influenced by environmental factors. The environment has certainly worsened the problem of illness and death over time, resulting in an aging population and an increase in premature deaths. Therefore, health policy must take all these factors into account.
Good health is a state of well-being, which includes both physiological health as well as mental health. Healthy people tend to be physically healthy, while sick individuals tend to be mentally unhealthy. One can experience good health through a combination of healthy eating, regular exercise and a strong social network. At the other end of the spectrum, poor health leads to a poor quality of life, poverty, reduced opportunities and a reduction of potential relationships.
The goals of public health are to reduce the burden of illness and injury on society as a whole, improve health and wellness, promote health planning and provide protection against preventable illness and injury. As part of its strategy to achieve these goals, public health agencies help to create a balance between individual freedom and responsibility for health. Individual freedom refers to the ability to choose how, when and for how long to take part in the physical activities necessary for good health. Responsibility, on the other hand, refers to the accountability to others for making sure that one meets the recommended intake and exercise guidelines and for adhering to reasonable precautions to protect the consumer from harmful exposure to health hazards. The concept of wellbeing therefore combines the concepts of physical health and mental health, as both require the individual to be in control of his or her own body and mind.
While health promotion has been a human right since the declaration of the constitution, much debate continues to rage regarding the proper scope of this right. Some people argue that it is an antibiotivity law that trims away the individual’s freedom of action, making him or her more dependent on others. Others support the right to promote health by pointing out that people live longer, healthier lives than ever before because they are able to take proactive steps to stay healthy. Still, others believe that health promotion is a restraint for those who are too poor to afford healthcare and drugs – and therefore are left out in the cold in a world where prevention is better than cure. The bottom line is that a healthy society must also ensure that its citizens have the resources necessary to prevent themselves from becoming ill.
Health promotion is often thought to be synonymous with mental wellbeing, but this is not always the case. Mental health refers to a person’s ability to live his or her life to the fullest despite suffering from any kind of mental illness. On the other hand, public health defines health as a system of policies and practices that improves the health of the population as a whole and provides a higher quality of life for all of its citizens. The debate over the meaning of mental well-being versus public health is likely to rage on for some time.