The Definition of Health

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Too many times health is given too ideal a definition with standards very difficult to meet. But we don’t live in a perfect world or perfect societies nor are we perfect individuals so I think health deserves a more relaxed definition that focuses on our satisfaction with ourselves and our ability to survive and function. I believe that health is a state of not only the absence of disease but also the feeling that the individual is doing well. The individual feels happy (mentally well), feels fit (physically well), feels accepted in society (socially well), and feels the calling for a higher purpose (spiritually well). This is a very relaxed, optimistic definition of health which allows for greater inclusion of people.

WHO defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being and not merely an absence of disease or infirmity.

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Though the WHO definition is broad and idealistic it is a good standard to follow. A standard which if countries and individuals strive to attain they can reach great heights as far as healthier lifestyles and better quality of healthcare, a better social atmosphere, and more services for mental health.

Also, the WHO definition takes a holistic approach to health encompassing physical, mental, and social wellbeing taking into account all the major parts of a person’s life that directly influences their health. This allows greater scope for various methods of intervention to improve the health of individuals and societies.

The WHO also includes an economic component in their definition and therefore it urges societies and health care workers to give importance to the economic status of a person. A job loss can lead to depression or low salary can affect a person’s diet in that they can’t get the needed nutrients. All these economic factors have a direct impact on health.


The drawback of the WHO definition of health is that it is too impractical and almost unattainable. It defines health as a state instead of as a dynamic process where we adjust to meet our daily demands of life. No one person can be physically, mentally and socially well at all times and for an extended period. All individuals go through varying periods of stress, strain, and sickness. And so too many of us would become excluded from the category of health according to this definition.

Another drawback is that it is too broad and does not concentrate especially on the different aspects that affect health like age, sex, genetic factors, and racial differences. For example, sickle cell anemia is considered a disease but actually it is a protective trait in Africans because it reduces their chances of infection with falciparum malaria. In this case, should it be considered a disease when it is actually a protective factor?

Yet another drawback is that the WHO definition does not cover sexual functions which is a major contributor to health. Sexual health has a major impact on daily life. For example, HIV/AIDS is a major sexual health issue. Healthy as well as infected individuals are affected by it, both physically but also mentally and socially to a great extent. Infertility and STD’s are other important parts of sexual health that affect health and overall quality of life.

It doesn’t elaborate on monitoring and regulating the environmental factors that affect health. For example, in India nine of ten individuals test positive in the Mantoux test which is a test to diagnose tuberculosis but do not show manifestations of the disease. So do we consider as sick because of this or do we consider them as healthy individuals in a different environment. This is why the environment should be considered in the WHO definition.

Health is not just a state of physical, mental, social well being but it is also a state of knowing the factors which contribute to health. Health is not an absolute entity. It is about adaptation and sustenance in an environment that may not be ideal. It is a step by step process with multiple dynamic determinants like proper nutrition, physical exercise, rest, spirituality, healthy interactions with friends, work colleagues, and neighbors, self-esteem, satisfaction with one’s career, feeling that one has an active role as a citizen of the world.

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