Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is ‘a state of full physical, emotional and social well being and not just the absence of sickness and disease.’ A wide variety of other definitions have also been used over time, with some coming from more recent times. There is a broad range of conditions that are thought to have some affect on health – from chronic conditions to hereditary disorders to pollution. But it is the quality of life that is most important, and what we consider a healthy life will vary greatly from person to person.
The state of physical health is closely related to the quality of life, which can be described as the extent of the capacity to enjoy life, to cope with conditions, to thrive and to work productively. It includes the ability to enjoy bodily health, the ability to get through life’s challenges and to be adaptive in the face of risk. Mental health on the other hand is about one’s ability to think, reason and learn as well as to cope with negative events and feelings. It can also include problems such as memory, learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, anger management and other mood disorders. It is important not to confuse the two, as the quality of health can differ significantly from person to person.
The state of health and the quality of health depend on a number of factors. This means that the definition of health is very much dependent on assumptions, on how an individual behavior or personality is influenced by health services and other social factors. A common assumption is that poor health status indicates a loss of control over the body, while good health status signifies a sense of control over the body and its functions. However, this is not the whole story. Control is possible even in poor health, as the individual behavior can be improved.
People in developed countries are more healthy than those in the developing countries. There are several reasons for this. First, in developed countries people have more access to healthy diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and fish. Second, they have more exercise, which improves their overall health. Third, in developed countries people have greater exposure to sunlight, and the combination of exposure to sunlight and a healthy diet is one of the major causes for good health in the population. Finally, people in developed countries have less stress and social pressure, so they are less likely to suffer from ill health conditions, including chronic diseases and disability.
These differences in determinants reflect public health concerns that need to be addressed effectively. For instance, differences in obesity and diabetes between developed and developing countries is worrying since these two diseases are associated with different determinants. Obesity is determined by overall energy intake, whereas diabetes is associated with the duration and severity of obesity. It should be noted that these two diseases are interdependent, meaning that the association between them is dependent on the first. Similarly, differences in alcohol consumption and tobacco use are related to other determinants, such as social factors.
Developed nations may have high rates of obesity and diabetes, but they also have high levels of physical well-being. Thus, there is an important link between health and mental health and physical well-being. People living in developed countries have greater access to healthy foods, physical activities and stress management. They have better social connections and they are less stressed, so they have higher chances of being physically healthy and mentally fit.