The need for health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is “the absence of disability and death caused by any incident of harmful intervention aimed at preventing the spread of a communicable disease.” A wide variety of other definitions have also been used over the years. The ultimate goal, of course, is to prevent the spread of disease, and to do so, the medical profession has made many advances. There are many advances in the medical field that allow doctors to diagnose and treat diseases more quickly and effectively than ever before.
One problem, however, is that the definition of “healthy” has changed over the years. Perhaps the biggest change is the third definition, which describes the ideal level of health as “a normal, average human being.” Though this definition sounds good in theory, it is difficult to apply it to most people. For some, being healthy may involve living beyond what is considered “normal.” In other words, healthy may be defined as looking, feeling and acting like a typical human being. But this standard may actually cause many problems, because it may make it very difficult to diagnose and treat many diseases.
The other problem with this third definition is that it tends to erase the distinction between illness and injury. This definition of “healthy” tends to create an impression that all sickness and disease are the same and that public health is simply managing disease. In fact, the medical profession argues that this definition does not accurately convey the concepts of life course and risk. It could be said that public health is management, not treatment. So what makes someone sick?
Some would say that the disease concept is too broad and tends to generate an overly narrow focus on health. By narrowing the focus, the ability to define healthy can become easier. But this means that the definition of healthy will also become more vague. It will become impossible to tell if a person is healthy simply by asking them questions such as, have you had flu this season or have you had weight problems in the past. The third definition of “healthy” might just be a way to classify profligate use of healthcare, and it may not reflect any true comprehension of a person’s true state of health. Perhaps the problem is that people seem to associate symptoms with illness when they do not have symptoms of both.
Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that public health education programs tend to teach the definition of healthy as something that is only about managing disease. This is unfortunate, because for older adults, a true understanding of healthy living means so much more than just managing disease. It means an active participation in building a quality life and ensuring that your quality of life is improved through the healthy choices that you make in your daily life.
Health and wellness cannot be reduced to a definition. It is a complete package of values and habits that encompass everything from diet to exercise to stress management. By making sure that everyone has a complete physical fitness level and a reasonable emotional wellbeing, health and wellness becomes achievable for all of us. By learning to live according to this definition of healthy living we can ensure that the quality of life for all of our communities’ citizens improves. The ability to better manage the spread of communicable diseases, and reduce premature death rates, comes from making sure that everyone has a complete physical fitness level and a reasonable emotional wellbeing.