The definition of health has been a topic of debate and discussion for centuries. Over time, the definition has evolved as our understanding of health has changed. In this article, we will explore the history of the definition of health and how it has developed over time.
Early Conceptions of Health
The earliest conceptions of health were based on the idea of balance. In ancient Greek and Roman times, health was viewed as a state of balance between the body, mind, and spirit. This idea was also present in ancient Chinese and Indian cultures, where health was seen as a balance between the elements of yin and yang or the three doshas.
In the Middle Ages, health was viewed as the absence of disease. This concept was based on the idea of humoral theory, which held that the body was composed of four humors or fluids that needed to be balanced for good health. Diseases were seen as the result of an imbalance of the humors, and the goal of medicine was to restore this balance.
The Emergence of Modern Medicine
The definition of health began to shift in the 19th century with the emergence of modern medicine. The development of the germ theory of disease and the discovery of antibiotics shifted the focus of medicine from maintaining balance to curing disease. Health was now defined as the absence of disease, and the goal of medicine was to cure or treat illnesses.
The World Health Organization
The World Health Organization (WHO) was established in 1948 with the goal of promoting health and well-being around the world. In 1946, the WHO defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This definition reflected a shift from the focus on disease to a more holistic view of health that included physical, mental, and social well-being.
The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion
In 1986, the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion was developed at the First International Conference on Health Promotion. The charter defined health as “a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. Health is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities.” This definition reflected a shift towards a more positive view of health that emphasized the importance of social and personal factors in promoting well-being.
The WHO’s Current Definition of Health
The WHO’s definition of health has evolved since its establishment in 1948. In 1998, the WHO revised its definition of health to “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This definition reflects the idea that health is more than just the absence of disease and that it includes a holistic view of physical, mental, and social well-being.
In 2022, the WHO updated its definition of health again, stating that “health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. It is a dynamic process of continuous adaptation to changes in the environment and the individual’s internal and external conditions.” This definition emphasizes the importance of adaptation and change in maintaining health and well-being.
The definition of health has evolved over time, reflecting changes in our understanding of health and well-being. From the ancient Greek and Roman concept of balance to the modern idea of disease prevention and treatment, the definition of health has shifted towards a more holistic view that includes physical, mental, and social well-being. The WHO’s definition of health reflects this holistic view, emphasizing the importance of adaptation and change in promoting health and well-being.