Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a condition in which “the body’s total physical, emotional, and social well being is improved through prevention, care, and treatment.” Different definitions have been applied to health throughout the history of medical science. Some have been developed from philosophies of medical ethics while others have come from more practical, day-to-day applications. Still others have been developed to represent the best available scientific information on health.
These broad classifications of health encompass a range of conditions as well as philosophies and practices that are designed to improve the health and well-being of human beings. In addition to these broad areas, however, there are also specific attributes and behaviors that social determinants contribute to the development of health and illness, the causes of health and illness, the prevention of health and illness, and the treatment of health and illness. In many ways, these social determinants shape the experience of health and illness for particular groups of people and serve as the source of health disparities.
One of the most pressing issues that health and medicine face today is the disparity in health care between people of color and other historically disadvantaged groups. There are many explanations for the existence of these discrepancies in health care. One possibility is racism; another is economic inequality. Still another explanation has to do with differences in social status. People who belong to historically disadvantaged groups face greater health and wellness disparities than do those who belong to advantaged groups; this is why lower socioeconomic class remains at the very top of the list for highest health risks.
The differences in health and illness that result from racial and socioeconomic status are most pronounced when it comes to health related issues such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. People who fall into the poorer economic class fall below the threshold for good health due to a variety of factors. These include reduced access to quality family and community resources, poor nutritional programs, higher levels of stress and physical exposure to disease, and reduced access to health care services. Stress, poor nutrition, and physical exposure can lead to a variety of illness and diseases including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure; and these illnesses and diseases may further worsen the poverty of the affected person’s socioeconomic status.
In order to meet the third definition of good health, an individual must have access to a variety of resources that reduce the risks of getting sick and would prevent him or her from getting sick. These resources include good health practices, such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and minimizing exposure to toxins. A good diet would reduce caloric intake; regular exercise would strengthen the body’s immune system and help fight against physical illness; and reducing exposure to toxins means less exposure to harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke, household cleaners, and commercial products. Having a healthy diet, regular exercise, and a low intake of toxins would also decrease the chances of acquiring emotional stress and depression. This would then increase quality of life and improve self-esteem of an individual.
The fourth definition of health promotion, which is the most important guideline for promoting a healthy lifestyle, is to get timely medical care. Health promotion is more than simply eating right and taking good care of yourself. It is about having access to quality health care services, such as immunizations, cancer screenings, well-baby checkups, and well-child checkups, upon demand. Medical care provides an opportunity to prevent illness and catch it early before it gets worse. Thus, by ensuring that an individual gets timely medical care, he or she has a chance of preventing illness and acquiring the complete physical health that his or her needs.