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The World Health Organization defines health as a state of absolute physical, mental and social welfare, which does not merely symbolize the absence of diseases (World Health Organization, 1946). This is basically determined by the context of the people’s lives, considering the fact that people may not always have the capacity to directly control some of the factors determining their health (World Health Organization, 1946). However, it is important to note that there are different ways society can conceptualize health. Besides, there is a connection between the manner in which the society defines and pursues health. This paper investigates the ways society understands health. The paper will also identify the determinants of health in humans and the link between health policies, health determinants and health.
Determinants of Health in Humans
Human beings are complex systems, and numerous factors work together to determine their health. To be able to really conclude whether people are healthy or not, it is largely determined by the environment and circumstances. Factors such as the state of the environment where we live, education and income level, genetics, and family and friends relationships play a significant role in determining health (World Health Organization, 1946). However, it is apparent that most people continue to maintain unhealthy practices that are likely to result in health-related problems. Penny et al. (1994) highlighted that the main reasons why people continue to engage in unhealthy behaviors is due to inaccurate perceptions regarding susceptibility and risk. Most people always tend to ignore their own risk-increasing behaviour and concentrate on the risk-increasing behaviors of the people around. Blum (1974, 1981) came up with a model in which he grouped the determinants of health into four divisions: lifestyle, environment, genetics and health care services.
The type of lifestyle an individual maintains determines the health status (Hart, 1997). For instance, an individual’s behaviour and coping skills such as maintaining balanced diet, keeping active, consumption of drugs and substances and stress management play significant roles in determining the health. However, despite the fact that lifestyle is often viewed as an aspect of freedom, it is noted that it is also influenced by personal skills and educational level (Hart, 1997).
It is crucial to note that both pre-natal and post-natal environments contain significant impacts on the health status of an individual. There exists a significant relationship between the intrauterine environment and the health status of the fetus. For instance, maternal illness, high blood pressure and smoking can give rise to low birth weight infants, while maternal gestational can give rise to overweight infants (Barker et al. 1989a). Post-natal environment is further subdivided into physical, biological and chemical environment, and economic, social and psychological environment. Under the post-natal environment, some of the factors that can determine health include income levels, education, poverty, accessibility to clean air, safe water, healthy working places, good relationships with family and friends, cultural beliefs, crime and violence, environmental pollution, and food and agriculture.
These factors entail genetic endowment of an individual such as sex and the biological age. All human diseases contain genetic components, whereby the host response, regarding the severity and extent of the effects, is a function of thegenetic weakness (Hart, 1997). Therefore, inheritance plays a significant role in determining the likelihood of developing a disease. In addition, genetics is also considered as the most powerful arena where medical intervention can be conducted to enhance an individual’s health. However, medical intervention cannot alter with an individual’s genetic constitution to enhance their health, but this works to enhance a greater understanding of the relationship between environmental and genetic factors (Hart, 1997).
An individual’s health can be determined by access to good effective healthcare services (Bunker et al., 1995). Good accessibility and use of the healthcare services that treat and prevent diseases can help in minimizing vulnerability.
Connection between how a Society defines Health and how it Pursues Health
It is apparent that the society considers the more affluent to live longer and their susceptibility to diseases to be actually low compared to the less fortunate people in the society (Hattersley, 1997). Such differences have generated social injustices, and they depict some of the significant influences on the contemporary society. However, it is worth noting that the society recognizes the fact that an individual’s own behavior plays a significant role in determining their health status. Therefore, people tend to behave according to their own understanding regarding healthy practices based on their social status in the society. It is understood that medical care can help prolong survival in case of a serious disease. Poor living conditions result in poor health, while good living conditions promote healthy living (Hattersley, 1997). However, it is important to note that most of the societies have for a long time maintained their cultural beliefs in place that were supposed to guide their living, for instance, the type of diet consumed. In addition, the society has had its own approaches towards dealing with the common types of diseases through their own local skills and resources, and some of the major ailments, such as cancer and diabetes, were always associated with the defilement of the taboos. The society pursues health as a condition that is determined by the environment in which an individual lives, works and plays, and the social status in the society, which is actually connected to the way health is defined considering the fact that the better-off are always considered to be healthier.
Influence of Technology
Health behaviors have had a significant role as far as the health of the population is concerned. The main view is that the invention of technology has changed the manner in which the society defines health. For instance, the decline of diseases such as whooping cough, small pox and tuberculosis has been associated with the establishment of medical interventions like vaccinations and chemotherapy. Increased access to technology has actually transformed the perception of the society towards health so that people are today more conscious of their health. People are concerned about changing their behavior and adopting the healthy lifestyles, changing their traditional beliefs and coping strategies, and adhering to the medical recommendations.
Connection between Health Policies, Health Determinants and Health
The policies and actions for health have to be directed towards dealing with the health determinants in an aim to address the causes of diseases so as to prevent them from occurring (Abel-Smith, 1994). This is all geared towards ensuring the risk and susceptibility to diseases is minimized. Health experts highlight that recognizing the impacts on health of the social and economic policies contain significant impacts regarding the manner in which the society makes its developmental decisions.
However, it is apparent that decision-makers at all levels recognize the need to the importance of investing in sustainable development and health (Abel-Smith, 1994). However, this is based on clear access to modern information regarding the determinants of health, through which effective health policies are grounded on. It is important to note that translating the scientific information into effective health actions and policies is a complex process (Abel-Smith, 1994). This becomes more challenging, especially when the policies are aimed at changing the manner in which the society perceives health policies. Scientific knowledge regarding the determinants of health is today accumulating at a faster rate. It is therefore important that health policies are updated to ensure they address the health determinants, with the general aim of promoting a healthy society.
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