The World Health Organization defines health as “a condition of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, rather than the absence of sickness or disability.” Throughout history, several definitions have been employed for various objectives. Healthy habits, such as regular physical activity and appropriate sleep, should be encouraged, while unhealthy habits, such as smoking and excessive stress, can be reduced or avoided. Some health-related factors are the result of individual choices, such as whether or not to engage in high-risk behaviour, while others are the result of structural factors, such as whether society is organised in a way that makes it easier or harder for people to obtain necessary healthcare services. Other factors, such as hereditary problems, are beyond the control of either individuals or groups.
The definition of health has changed over time. Early definitions of health, in keeping with the biological perspective, focused on the subject of the body’s ability to function; health was viewed as a state of normal function that may be interrupted from time to time by sickness. A state defined by anatomic, physiologic, and psychological integrity, the ability to execute personally valued family, job, and community tasks, and the ability to deal with physical, biological, psychological, and social stress is an example of such a description of health. The World Health Organization (WHO) then offered a definition that aimed higher, tying health to “physical, mental, and social well-being, rather than only the absence of disease and infirmity,” in 1948, in a major break from earlier definitions. Although this concept was praised by some as novel, it was also condemned for being ambiguous and overly wide, as well as not being quantitative. For a long time, it was dismissed as an impractical ideal, with most health conversations reverting to the biological model’s pragmatism.
The same movement occurred in concepts of health, from perceiving sickness as a state to thinking of it as a process. Again, the WHO took the lead in fostering the development of the health promotion movement in the 1980s. This introduced a new understanding of health, not as a state, but as a dynamic of resiliency, or as “a resource for living.” The World Health Organization changed the definition of health in 1984, defining it as “the extent to which an individual or community is able to achieve ambitions and meet requirements, as well as to modify or cope with the environment.”