Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Illusive Nature of Health

The Illusive Nature of Health

What is health? Do you think you know? I mean really, truly, know? Sure, you can probably quote to me the World Health Organization’s definition of “health,” and you can probably quote to me the Journal of Health Promotion’s definition of “health,” but does that mean you know what “health” is?

I suspect that many of you reading this blog are either in the health field or studying health with the goal of entering the health field. Yet, I wonder if even we – the practitioners of public health – would agree on a definition of health?  I will admit upfront that I believe there is a lack of true comprehension about this construct we call “health,” sadly, even from those of us in the health field. So, you don’t believe me? Well then try this experiment: Google the word “health” and see what “pops up.” Read the myriad definitions provided and count how many definitions you find. Well? What did you discover? Still don’t quite believe me about the apparent lack of agreement on, and comprehension of, the word “health?” Then try this experiment: ask five or six different people in the health field or helping profession (e.g., a physician, a psychologist, an academic, a health educator, a fitness trainer, a priest/minister/monk) to define the word “health.” I will bet all the money in my bank (which would not be much!) that you will get different answers from each of the different people you ask.  Furthermore, I am equally confident that, although different, there will be a small common denominator in each of the answers. That common denominator will be something related to “the physical body,” such as weight, illness, or disease (or lack of illness/disease) or “working out” or “eating right.” But, again, each of those definitions has to do with the physical characteristic of the body. So, does that mean we should define “health” according to some “physical characteristic” of our body? If I “look good,” have a good blood-lipid profile, am within my ideal weight range, and work out regularly does that mean I am healthy? (And do notice my deliberate change from trying to pin down a definition of “health” to the perception of what we think is “healthy”). Let me share what I mean about the illusive nature of health. Below, I have provided three scenarios of three different people.  Read each scenario and ask yourself which of the three individuals is the healthiest. (And, yes, you MUST pick at least one). In fact, try ranking them from most to least healthiest and then ask yourself why you ranked them in the order you did.

BILL, aged 25, is the picture of perfect physical fitness and good health: most people consider him very attractive with his blond-hair, blue eyes, “6-pack” abdominal muscles, slim body and toned muscles. He exercises regularly, competes (and often wins) in triathlons and is successful at work. Yet, at home, he verbally abuses his girlfriend and has come close to physically assaulting her on at least one occasion.  Would BILL fit our definition of health?

GEORGIA, aged 19, is a warm, generous woman who gives time and energy to help the homeless in her community. She goes to church weekly, participates in both church and community activities, and always shares a smile or kind word with strangers. She is well liked by people who know her and seems very secure with herself. She meditates as often as she can. Yet, according to height/weight charts, she is 40 pounds overweight, does not exercise, and has elevated triglycerides.  Would GEORGIA fit our definition of health?

SAM, aged 23, is physically fit, is within his ideal body weight, eats right, is well liked by his family, friends, and colleagues, and is generally described as a highly intelligent and capable person. He has a stable job, makes good money, and spends quality time with his boyfriend. Yet, he often describes himself as “lost,” describes his life as “without purpose,” and suffers from anxiety due to his constant search for “the meaning of life.” Would SAM fit our definition of health?

I’m curious if our answers – especially for those of us in the health field – would match up. How would the “average person,” (whatever that means) rank these scenarios? Should there be consensus in our answers? I’ll have more to say about these three individuals later in the week. In the meantime, I would like to hear from you.


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Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, none of them fit my definition of health. Each has something that could be worked on to provide a more optimal well-being.

Anonymous said...

The best ways to have a flat and sculpted stomach is to use abdominal exercise machines. The advantage of abdominal exercise machines is that it strengthens the stomach muscles but does not increase their size.

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