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Defining Health

The WHO has defined “Health” as “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” in 1948 and has not updated this definition despite the world becoming a completely different place since then. Society has evolved in every possible way in the past 50 years and yet our way of defining the concept of health has remained untouched. This is shocking considering the ambiguity in the statement itself, and its lack of self-awareness. This definition of health considers physical, mental and social wellbeing as simple independent bodies, when they are a complex web that affect each other and are impacted by many other factors.

Currently there are three possible measures of health, the absence/presence of disease/disability, a person's ability to endure day to day life and finally an individual's physical and social homeostasis (Sartorius, 2006). Still with these measures there are numerous issues that arise when we try to implement them in the real world. For example, if we try to measure a person’s health based on the third tool, we may consider a person who has a large friend group, a good job and active lifestyle as a healthy person, however if this person has extreme ideologies that include feeling that certain races deserve to be wiped out, would we carry the same opinion that this is a healthy person?

Both these measures of health are too simple and cannot be used in the complex world we live in today where our “Health” or wellbeing is impacted by physical, emotional, genetic, social and economic factors that are uncontrolled and unpredictable. When measuring “Health” as an overall concept it is important to note that humans are complex beings with many layers that all intertwine and mold each other.

We need to work towards a definition that can include the various layers to humans and that can be a fair measurement that can be applied across the board. Do you think this is something that can be achieved?


Sartorius N. The meanings of health and its promotion. Croat Med J. 2006 Aug;47(4):662-4. PMID: 16909464; PMCID: PMC2080455.

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