The Definition of Health and How it Should Be Measured

Health is the ability to manage disease, enjoy life, and control one’s own destiny. It is the result of a complex interplay between socio-economic and political contexts. Some definitions of health focus on sustainability, while others are too narrow and confuse the outcomes of interest (health) with the processes of health determination. Regardless of how one defines health, it is important to understand the relationship between health and participation in society. This article will examine the many perspectives on health and how it is defined and how it should be measured.

A person’s health may be defined in quantitative terms, including physical function, and the probability of imminent disease. Health measurements are frequently found in textbooks on clinical medicine and diagnosis. In general, a health examination will involve a series of tests that may be more descriptive than quantitative. However, some of these tests will indicate a disease even in a seemingly healthy person. So, how do we measure health? How can we improve our understanding of it?

One way to increase the odds of health is to make a plan that addresses health inequities. Inequalities in income, education, and neighborhood characteristics are major determinants of health. Increasing these opportunities for healthier living will benefit people in marginalized groups. Changing social policies to address these inequities is a critical first step towards eliminating health inequities. And, once the policy changes are in place, the next step is implementing those changes.