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Meanings of Health - An Overview

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Health And Social Care
Wordcount: 1745 words Published: 5th Sep 2017

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Definitions of health

The concept of health means different things to different people.

Early meanings of ‘health’

  • Prior to World War II, health was viewed as the opposite to illness.
  • If there was no evidence of disease or physical illness, we were considered health
  • Any breakdown in the body system meant it was not healthy – this view suggested if you were ill – medicine, drugs and doctors could return you to a healthy state

Using this approach ‘health’ has some limitations

  • too narrow and one dimensional
  • disregards individuals with mental, social or spiritual illness
  • e.g. a person may not be suffering a physical illness, but may be experiencing depression or emotional stress.

World Health Organisation (WHO) definition of health

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity

  • definition gave greater recognition to a more holistic concept of health
  • ‘complete’ suggests that you always have to have no problems with yourself at all times otherwise you are not considered healthy  unrealistic and unachievable

Dimensions of Health

Physical health – is the wellness of the body and the absence of chronic pain or discomfort

Social health – is our ability to interact with other people in an interdependent and cooperative way

Mental/emotional health – is a state of well-being where we can realise our abilities, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productivity and make a contribution to the community

Spiritual health – relates to a sense of purpose and meaning in our life and to feeling connected with others and society

Health is a result of complex interactions between each of the 4 dimensions. As one dimension improves, so too might another in an indirect way and vice versa.

Relative and dynamic nature of health

Health is dynamic and relative

Dynamic health – the health status of an individual is continually changing e.g. an individual go to bed feeling fine then wake up with the flu the next day

Relative health – the use of others to compare the health status of a particular person e.g. an individual decides that an elite sports person is healthier than their friend who is into tennis

An individual’s circumstances affect their health

Our health status changes in relation to our circumstances.

Factors that can impact on health status include:

  • Heredity
  • Experiences & environmental factors
  • Ability to make informed health decisions (SES)
  • Opportunities to access health services (Location)

Perceptions of Health

Focuses on how health is regarded, understood and interpreted. It relates to people’s opinions of health and how these opinions are formed.

Perception – the way in which something is regarded, understood or interpreted

Perceptions of our health

Perceptions of their health – how you understand health

How you interpret your own health is affected by many things including:

  • Our family’s perception of health
  • Our peers understanding of what health is and how to become it
  • How health is portrayed in the media
  • Our personal beliefs and preconceptions about life in general
  • The value we place on health
  • Our previous experiences related to health (fitness, sport, injury, illness, disease)
  • Our environment (geographical location, access to health information and technology)
  • Our level of health education

Our perception of health will change during our life cycle


Perceptions on the health of others

The perceptions of the health of others is largely influenced by your view of health and what you know about the person.

We tend to judge others very superficially based on our perception of their health.

We may hold stereotypical beliefs about particular groups in the community and this may limit our ideas about their likely health status e.g. We may perceive a model as healthy however this is not considering all health dimensions

Implications of different perceptions of health

Individual level – an individual’s perception of their health can have a significant influence on their lifestyle choices and behaviours relating to health

An accurate assessment of our level of health assists us to be proactive about our health and take appropriate action to address health concerns e.g. an individual who regularly drinks alcohol and recognises that their behaviour is having a detrimental effect on their health is more likely to stop drinking, limit their alcohol intake or seek professional help than someone who does not believe their alcohol consumption is causing them harm

An incorrect or distorted assessment of our health status could lead to health behaviours that are likely to harm our overall health e.g. an individual perceiving themselves to be overweight when their weight fits within a healthy range which leads them to not eating

Policy level – different perceptions held by government, health professionals etc. may drive the health agenda for developing strategies and interventions – this could influence policies relating to health education, budget expenditure on certain areas etc.

Perceptions of health as social constructs

A Social construct – is a concept that recognises that people have different view based on their social circumstances and ways of seeing, interpreting, interrelating and interacting with their environment

  • The recognition that individuals do not have complete control over their own health has contributed to the acceptance that health is a social construct.
  • A person’s health behaviours and health status are significantly determined by factors relating to the social, physical and cultural environment in which they live.
  • Recognising health as a social construct helps us explain why some individuals or groups experience better or worse health than others. It also helps us understand why improving the health status of particular groups within the community can be a complex and prolonged process.

Factors that are likely to play a role in our social construct of health:

  • Socioeconomic status
  • Geographical location
  • Cultural background
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Level of education
  • Community values and expectations

All these factors have an influence on:

  • The expectations we form about our health potential
  • The understanding we develop of what good health involves
  • The ability we have to act on information and exert control over our own health
  • our choices about whether we use health products and services and how they are used
  • how we respond to challenges to our health and well-being

Impact of the media, peers and family


Investigate the trends in the health behaviours of young people

Use textbook

Pick 3 health behaviours

  • substance use
  • sexual and reproductive health
  • food habits

Identify protective and risk behaviours

Sexual and reproductive health

The health behaviours of young people relating to sexual activity have found to have both favourable and unfavourable trends in different areas of the behaviour. The sexual and reproductive health is a significant part of a young person’s life as adolescence is a time where an individual may choose to begin participating in sexual activity. The Young Australians: their health and wellbeing 2008 report profile found that 42.5% of young people in Year 10 and Year 12 have had sexual intercourse and around 45% of the sexually active students reported having more than one sexual partner in the past 12 months and both of these numbers have increased significantly since the previous survey in 2002. As a result of a higher sexual activity rate there has been a rising number of STI contractions. The survey found that 99.8% of young people in Year 10 and 12 used a form of contraception at their most recent sexual encounter and this number is showing a favourable trend. However, there are rising rates of notifiable sexually transmissible infections among young people aged 12-24 years largely chlamydia, with 1045 per 100,000 having a STI and 945 per 100,000 being chlamydia. This shows that although young people are using contraceptive methods they may not be using barrier methods to prevent STIs.

Substance use

The health behaviours of young people relating to drug use

Physical activity

The health behaviours of young people relating to physical activity have found to have unfavourable trends. The NSW schools physical activity and nutrition survey (SPANS) 2010 found that there has been a significant decline in the physical activity level of high school students, with an exception to year 10 girls. Only 56% of surveyed students met the recommended guidelines in summer and just over 50% in winter. Another finding of the SPANS in relation to physical activity was the significant proportion of young people participating in in small screen recreation (SSR) where over 60% exceeded the recommended guideline of 2 hours on weekdays, with this increasing to 80% on weekends. This sedentary behaviour in young people will ultimately increase level of health related disease in the future.


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