Changing our understanding of health
A – Changes in concepts of health in Western society
The concept of health holds different meanings for different people and groups. These meanings of health have also changed overtime. This change is no more evident than in Western society today, when notions of health and health promotion are being challenged and expanded in new ways.
B – Definition of health in medical terms
For much of recent Western history, health has been viewed in the physical sense only. That is, good health has been connected to the smooth mechanical operation of the body, while ill health has been attributed to a breakdown in this machine. Health in this sense has been defined as the absence of disease or illness and is seen in medical terms. According to this view, creating health for people means providing medical care to treat or prevent disease and illness. During this period, there was an emphasis on providing clean water, improved sanitation and housing.
C – Holistic approach to health
In the late 1940s the World Health Organisation challenged this physically and medically oriented view of health. They stated that ‘health is a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being and is not merely the absence of disease‘ (WHO, 1946). Health and the person were seen more holistically (mind/body/spirit) and not just in physical terms.
D – Healthy lifestyles approach to health
The 1970s was a time of focusing on the prevention of disease and illness by emphasising the importance of the lifestyle and behaviour of the individual. Specific behaviours which were seen to increase risk of disease, such as smoking, lack of fitness and unhealthy eating habits, were targeted. Creating health meant providing not only medical health care, but health promotion programs and policies which would help people maintain healthy behaviours and lifestyles. While this individualistic healthy lifestyles approach to health worked for some (the wealthy members of society), people experiencing poverty, unemployment, underemployment or little control over the conditions of their daily lives benefited little from this approach. This was largely because both the healthy lifestyles approach and the medical approach to health largely ignored the social and environmental conditions affecting the health of people.
E – Socio-ecological view of health
During 1980s and 1990s there has been a growing swing away from seeing lifestyle risks as the root cause of poor health. While lifestyle factors still remain important, health is being viewed also in terms of the social, economic and environmental contexts in which people live. This broad approach to health is called the socio-ecological view of health. The broad socio-ecological view of health was endorsed at the first International Conference of Health Promotion held in 1986, Ottawa, Canada, where people from 38 countries agreed and declared that:
The fundamental conditions and resources for health are peace, shelter, education, food, a viable income, a stable eco-system, sustainable resources, social justice and equity. Improvement in health requires a secure foundation in these basic requirements. (WHO, 1986)
It is clear from this statement that the creation of health is about much more than encouraging healthy individual behaviours and lifestyles and providing appropriate medical care. Therefore, the creation of health must include addressing issues such as poverty, pollution, urbanisation, natural resource depletion, social alienation and poor working conditions. The social, economic and environmental contexts which contribute to the creation of health do not operate separately or independently of each other. Rather, they are interacting and interdependent, and it is the complex interrelationships between them which determine the conditions that promote health. A broad socio-ecological view of health suggests that the promotion of health must include a strong social, economic and environmental focus.
F – Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion
At the Ottawa Conference in 1986, a charter was developed which outlined new directions for health promotion based on the socio-ecological view of health. This charter, known as the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, remains as the backbone of health action today. In exploring the scope of health promotion it states that:
Good health is a major resource for social, economic and personal development and an important dimension of quality of life. Political, economic, social, cultural, environmental, behavioural and biological factors can all favour health or be harmful to it. (WHO, 1986)
The Ottawa Charter brings practical meaning and action to this broad notion of health promotion. It presents fundamental strategies and approaches in achieving health for all. The overall philosophy of health promotion which guides these fundamental strategies and approaches is one of ‘enabling people to increase control over and to improve their health’ (WHO, 1986).
The reading passage has six paragraphs A-F from the list of headings below
Choose the most suitable headings for paragraphs B-F from the list of headings below.
Write the appropriate numbers (i-ix) in boxes 1-5 on your answer sheet.
NB There are more headings than paragraphs, so you will not use them all.
1 Paragraph B
Answer: viii Locate
2 Paragraph C
Answer: ii Locate
3 Paragraph D
Answer: iv Locate
4 Paragraph E
Answer: ix Locate
5 Paragraph F
Answer: vii Locate
Do the following statements agree with the information in the Reading Passage?
In boxes 10-14 on your answer sheet write
YES if the statement agrees with the information
NO if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN if there is no information on this in the passsage
10 Doctors have been instrumental in improving living standards in Western society.
Answer: NOT GIVEN
11 The approach to health during the 1970s included the introduction of health awareness programs.
Answer: YES Locate
12 The socio-ecological view of health recognises that lifestyle habits and the provision of adequate health care are critical factors governing health.
Answer: NO Locate
13 The principles of the Ottawa Charter are considered to be out of date in the 1990s.
Answer: NO Locate
14 In recent years a number of additional countries have subscribed to the Ottawa Charter.
Answer: NOT GIVEN