What is Health? Lecture

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Published on 19 Nov 2011
Western University
Health Sciences
Health Sciences 1001A/B
When you are sick : https://studentservices.uwo.ca/secure/index.cfm
September 9, 2008
What is Health?
Hippocrates divorced the study of medicine with religion
i.e. people donʼt get sick because they are punished by the gods
he saw illness as the imbalance of the humorous (yellow bile, black bile, blood and
what health means to us depends on the views we use
i.e. a doctor would have a different idea of health from yourself
individual vs. social perspective
i.e. people getting sick because of bad water
"individual perspective: you yourself wonʼt drink the bad water
"social perspective: looking for the source of containment
ideas about health change over time and is different in various cultures
i.e. Chinese medicine: looks at health being associated with nature
""Western Medicine: looks at just the body itself
Official Definitions of Health
definitions of doctors, health professionals, government institutions
official definitions of health are more popular perceptions of health
OPPOSITE of official definitions: lay beliefs
TWO kinds of definitions: positive and negative
Negative vs. Positive definitions
Negative (disease oriented): focuses on disease, health is only present when
disease is absent, biomedical model
Positive (holistic): what health is in its own right, social models of health, holistic
view, individuals in relation to social conditions and structures
Biomedical Model of Health - a negative definition of health
doctrine of specific of etiology (cause)
assumption of generic disease
deviation from the normal - suggests that disease is an abnormal state of being, and
health is a normal state of being
scientific neutrality - perspective, looking for the cause of the disease (the
containment), but if it was social, you would look for the cause somewhere else (social
Negative Definitions of Health (disease oriented)
the solution is a cure (cure oriented)
located the source of health problems within the individual (genes, organs, germs,
uses technology: MRIʼs, CAT scans, etc
sees disease as medically manageable
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sees the body as a machine - separate from the mind (Rene Descartes)
sees the body as a bunch of systems working
problems of the biomedical perspective: technical/mechanistic approach,
reductionism (reduces the problem to a specific cause within the cause and doesnʼt
pay attention to the behaviour and the social conditions of the individual)
allows us to only define health after the event (after the patient has reported they
are ill/sick)
more attention to disease than health
iatrogenesis : sometimes medical advice can result in negative effects (i.e. side-
effects of drugs and chemotherapy)
TWO main ways to see health negatively
1. absence of disease or body abnormality
no signs of body abnormality regardless of how they feel about themselves
2. absence of illness and feelings of anxiety, pain or distress
set of unpleasant feelings that may or may not accompany disease
something that is experienced
according to this specific negative definition, someone who does not
experience feelings of anxiety, pain or abnormality is healthy
Positive Definitions of Health (holistic)
considers the individual as a whole
are salutogenic (looks for the origins of health)
includes the individualʼs mental, physical, sensual, social, and sexual health
Aggleton reading
health as an ideal state of being (e.g. WHO definition)
able to fulfill roles
commodity, can be bought and sold
problematic, health cant really be thought of as buying a canned good, there are
some limitations about this idea
i.e. a massage can be bought and can be healthy
personal energy reserve (i.e. having the energy to see friends after work/school)
personal potential
FIVE different ways of defining health positively
1. Health as an ideal state
WHO definition: “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being
and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity” - 1946
2. Health as a physical and mental fitness
Parsons (1972) defines health as “state of optimum capacity of an individual for
the effective performance of the roles and tasks for which (s)he has been
capacity of an individual to “fit into” social norms
normative approach
3. Health as commodity
can be supplied and lost
can be bought (health care, insurance)
can be sold (health food stores, health centres)
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can be given (surgery, drugs)
can be lost (disease, accident)
4. Health as a personal strength or ability - personal energy reserve
physical and mental strength
having the attitude or outlook in life to cope with adversity (difficulties or
5. Health as the basis for personal potential
David Seedhouse - health is made up of a number of factors which help people
to achieve their maximum personal potential (foundations for achievement)
includes food, shelter, clothing, water
problem: not entirely clear what personal potential is.
How do you know when your healthy?
when you have energy do to things, explore things
being able to participate in everything without limitations
feeling good, being able to get going, feeling content
when you break out a sweat each day
working hard
balance in life (having time for work and play)
comfortable with social and mental well-being
when you exercise mentally (reading, watching movies, etc)
What are your main sources of information about health?
health professionals
Antonovskyʼs “Sense of Coherence”
measures the extent to which individuals see the world as
Health Canada definitions
having the capacity to do things
“health as a capacity or resource, not a state; being able to pursue oneʼs goals, to
acquire skills and education, and to grow”
“the capacity of people to adapt to, respond to, or control lifeʼs challenges and
Lay understandings of Health
in contrast to health professional views
views of ordinary citizens, like you and me
they vary with social conditions, class, gender, and culture
influenced by media, culture, friends, experience, etc
womenʼs view on health are usually heavily influenced by body image, weight, shape
health and body image are usually correlated
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Document Summary

Of cial de nitions of health: de nitions of doctors, health professionals, government institutions, of cial de nitions of health are more popular perceptions of health, opposite of of cial de nitions: lay beliefs, two kinds of de nitions: positive and negative, negative vs. What are your main sources of information about health: media, health professionals. Antonovsky s sense of coherence : measures the extent to which individuals see the world as, comprehensible, manageable, meaningful. ***beliefs in health vary from place to place as well as different times in history*** Therefore, health is a relative quality - relative that is to the surroundings and circumstances in which people nd themselves. Environmental factors that affect how we view health: if you are around disease alot, then you will start to see disease as a normal thing, i. e. if you are close to the water, water has a calming effect. Diabetes mellitus: dramatic increase in cancer, dramatic decrease in in uenza/pneumonia.

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