3 Different perspectives on health
Perspectives of public health are shaped by ideology, including ideas about what is meant by the concept of health.
Activity 3: Thinking about your own health
Take a few minutes to think about your health or the health of someone close to you (such as a friend, family member or partner). Write notes to the questions below in the word document provided. If you’re thinking about somebody else’s health, think about the questions from their perspective.
- How would you describe your health?
- Thinking about your own health compared to ten years ago, would say you are healthier/less healthy/about the same?
- Is your health important to you? Why do you say that?
Now watch the video below in which both public health professionals and members of the public discuss what health means to them. How do the views of professionals like Mary and Joanna differ from the perceptions of members of the public like Bernadette and James? How do your perceptions of health compare?
Transcript: Film 1 Views on health (© The Open University)
Bernadette’s definition of health seems to be focused around the presence of disease. In contrast, Mary and Joanna discuss health as wider wellbeing that encompasses mental, physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions. They discuss health as being determined by factors outside the control of the individual, something we shall return to in the next section. James, however, sees his own lifestyle behaviours as being very important to his sense of health.
Activity 3 reveals that it is hard to arrive at a straightforward definition of health. Over the years different, and often competing, definitions of health have developed. Traditionally health has been defined in terms of disease and death, and this framing remains strong to this day. However, our understanding of health has gradually developed, and now there is the idea that health is not just the absence of disease, but overall physical, mental and social wellbeing. You may also define health as how you feel about yourself and your ability to do and achieve things.
Across countries there is variation in what is counted as public health activity, ranging from public health being concerned with disease prevention in a narrow medical sense, to a broader view of public health tackling wider social causes of health. This variation reflects very different understandings of the meaning of health.