Health As a Varying Life Course
Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is ‘a state of full physical, mental and emotional well being and not just the absence of sickness and disease.’ A number of definitions have also been applied to it over the years. Some people would say that health is subjective, an idea that one establishes for himself. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the definition of health is, ‘exceeding the normal condition of health.’
The Heritage Dictionary defines it as, ‘exceeding the average condition of health.’ The dictionaries define it as, ‘healthful body condition.’ Still, other dictionaries define it as, ‘state of being healthy.’ Some even use the word, ‘lifestyle,’ to define the overall health systems of an individual.
Using a definition that some would call subjective, a different picture of health is painted for people in different societies and communities. This can lead to health equity problems. One might look at health care equity as the pursuit of achieving healthy levels of health for all. Others look at health equity as focusing on the differences between groups, even those who belong to the same community or country. And yet another might see health equity as maintaining the current distribution of health risk factors, with emphasis on maintaining the highest level of healthy conditions that people of a certain culture have come to enjoy. These definitions are further influenced by the concepts of power, equity, and justice that are embedded in the larger theories of universal health care.
Health is a complex concept that has been the source of arguments, controversies, and policies for many years. It continues to polarize parties and ideologies from every angle. On the one hand, some see health care as providing services to those who need them, whether or not they can afford them. Others believe that the definition of health care should take into consideration the fact that different people come to the clinics and hospitals with different needs, and that any health system should strive to meet those needs.
A more politically correct way to look at health is to use the word “common.” This is the current definition used in most legislation and discussions of what constitutes optimal health. It refers to a standard of health that is seen as being “typical” among citizens in a given culture. For example, a common definition of obesity would be a BMI of 30 or higher. An absence of any serious disease is an absence of any serious medical condition.
The third definition, the life course definition, maintains that health matters for the individual only, and that external circumstances only contribute to how well he or she will live through his or her life. While this view may seem counterintuitive, it makes sense when you consider that age, occupation, and other external factors do not directly influence the life course of people who develop chronic conditions. However, they can greatly affect how someone who has developed one disorder might respond to a different life course. Therefore, it is important to consider whether a patient’s response to stress, her reaction to disease, and so forth can be said to have influenced her likelihood of developing a certain condition or her ability to cope with it.