What is health?

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. This World Health Organisation definition, although challenged by many of today’s experts in the medical field, has never been altered since its formulation in 1948.

Problems of the WHO definition

Most of the arguments regarding this definition stem from the WHO use of the word ‘complete’. Changing population patterns, people living longer and advances in medicine are the prime reasons for criticism of this definition. The definition as it stands is considered by many to lead to the ‘medicalisation’ of society. Where the advances in medicine mean most of us would technically be medically unhealthy.

The drugs industry, along with medical advancement, continues to expand the healthcare system: changing the accepted definition of many diseases. With various medical conditions being detected at an earlier stage, we are reaching a point where some of these conditions would have no bearing on the overall health of the patient. Yet pharmaceutical companies continue to produce a new range of drugs to treat these earlier discovered ‘illnesses’.

The Definition of Good health can vary

The broader definition of health varies from country to country. What one would describe as good health, in one of the world’s poorest countries; would be described as poor health by the more advanced western societies.

There’s little doubt that, in any society, the wealthy have far better mental, social and physical health than their poorer counterparts. Access to healthcare provided by the government, plus additional private health cover ensures the availability of health treatment drugs and procedures, inaccessible to the poorer in society due to cost.

In the United States, one of the world’s richest countries, healthcare is based on ability to pay. Top levels of medical insurance are the domain of the wealthy and many of the poor have no cover at all. Putting oneself in debt, to raise finance for a personal or family health problem in the US, is commonplace.

Average life expectancy across the globe is just under 68 years. With the figure of 78 years in wealthy developed nations, many poorer countries average lifespan is still under 50 years. The primary cause of this large difference is poor nutrition, poor sanitation and poor water quality: with little access to decent medical care.

What is health?

Health, it would seem, is the body’s ability to maintain itself in equilibrium. Without this ability we can only hope to live in a part of the world where a country’s, or individual’s wealth, allows for access to some form of healthcare.