What is ‘health’?


Most people associate the word ‘health’ with hospitals and doctors. When considering ‘good health’ they tend to think simply of an absence of illness. In this guide, we refer to health in its broadest sense: a person’s level of good physical and mental health, and the extent to which individuals in a society are enabled to live healthy and flourishing lives.

This guide describes the factors in the daily lives of people in the UK that create and support health and wellbeing.

Through this lens, a healthy person is someone with the opportunity for meaningful work, secure housing, stable relationships, high self-esteem and healthy behaviours.

A healthy society, in turn, is not one that waits for people to become ill, but one that sees how health is shaped by social, cultural, political, economic, commercial and environmental factors, and takes action on these for current and future generations.

[Health is] not just the physical wellbeing of an individual but also the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole community, in which each individual is able to achieve their full potential as a human being, thereby bringing about the total wellbeing of their community.

Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of New South Wales, Australia

Box 2: Wellbeing

Put simply, wellbeing is ‘about “how we are doing” as individuals, communities and as a nation and how sustainable this is for the future.’

Some people use this term – alongside health or on its own – because it encompasses health but also goes beyond it, helping them capture a more rounded picture of healthy lives.

This approach to health is loosely based on a model called ‘salutogenesis’, developed by medical sociologist Aaron Antonovsky.

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