It may seem an obvious question: ‘Do you know what “health” means?’ But there is much debate over the definition.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. But how accurate is this? Consider a person who has diabetes and manages it with medication, or someone who has back pain that they manage with physiotherapy. These people are clearly not in a state of complete physical wellbeing. But does that make them unhealthy?
Health: all or nothing?
Perhaps infirmity and disease can coexist with health. This would mean that there is not a binary ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ state, but rather a spectrum. In our lifetimes, we all experience periods of good and bad health. And we may even experience the two states at the same time.
Huber and colleagues suggest that the problem with the WHO definition is the absoluteness of ‘complete’ wellbeing. This, they suggest, inadvertently contributes to the ‘over-medicalisation’ of the population. It allows a platform for industry, medical technologies and professionals to redefine our health status. In effect, it could imply that no one is ‘healthy’ any of the time, and everyone needs some level of treatment for any given condition. It doesn’t allow the individual to define their own health, and their own health goals.