How should we define health?

  1. Machteld Huber, elder research worker 1


  2. J André Knottnerus, president of the united states, Scientific Council for Government Policy 2,
  3. Lawrence Green, editor in chief, Oxford Bibliographies Online—public health 3,
  4. Henriëtte avant-garde five hundred Horst, head 4,
  5. Alejandro R Jadad, professor 5,
  6. Daan Kromhout, frailty president of the united states, Health Council of the Netherlands 6,
  7. Brian Leonard, professor 7,
  8. Kate Lorig, professor 8,
  9. Maria Isabel Loureiro

    , coordinator for health promotion and protective covering 9,

  10. Jos W M van five hundred Meer, professor 10,
  11. Paul Schnabel, director 11,
  12. Richard Smith, director 12,
  13. Chris van Weel, headway 13,
  14. Henk Smid, conductor 14
  1. 1Louis Bolk Institute, Department of Healthcare and Nutrition, Hoofdstraat 24, NL-3972 LA Driebergen, Netherlands
  2. 2Department of General Practice, Maastricht University, Scientific Council for Government Policy, Postbus 20004, NL-2500 EA The Hague, Netherlands
  3. 3Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Medicine, University of California at San Francisco, USA
  4. 4Department of General Practice, VU Medical Center, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  5. 5Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, Toronto General Hospital, Toronto, Canada
  6. 6Department of Public Health Research, Wageningen University, The Hague, Netherlands
  7. 7Pharmacology Department, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  8. 8Stanford Patient Education Research Center, Palo Alto, CA, USA
  9. 9National School of Public Health/New University of Lisbon, Portugal
  10. 10General Internal Medicine, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Nijmegen, Netherlands
  11. 11Netherlands Institute for Social Research, The Hague, Netherlands
  12. 12UnitedHealth Chronic Disease Initiative, London, UK
  13. 13Department of Primary and Community Care, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre
  14. 14Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development, The Hague, Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to: M Huber


  • take15 June 2011

The WHO definition of health as dispatch wellbeing is no longer match for purpose given the rebel of chronic disease. Machteld Huber and colleagues propose changing the emphasis towards the ability to adapt and self manage in the confront of social, forcible, and emotional challenges

The current WHO definition of health, formulated in 1948, describes health as “ a express of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. ” 1 At that clock time this formulation was groundbreaking because of its width and ambition. It overcame the negative definition of health as absence of disease and included the physical, mental, and social domains. Although the definition has been criticised over the past 60 years, it has never been adapted. criticism is now intensifying,2 3 4 5 and as populations long time and the model of illnesses changes the definition may even be counterproductive. The newspaper summarises the limitations of the WHO definition and describes the proposals for making it more utilitarian that were developed at a conference of international health experts held in the Netherlands.6

Limitations of WHO definition

Most criticism of the WHO definition concerns the absoluteness of the word “ complete ” in relation to wellbeing. The first problem is that it unintentionally contributes to the medicalisation of society. The requirement for complete health “ would leave most of us unhealthy most of the time. ” 4 It therefore supports the tendencies of the aesculapian technology and drug industries, in association with professional organisations, to redefine diseases, expanding the setting of the healthcare organization. New screening technologies detect abnormalities at levels that might never cause illness and pharmaceutical companies produce drugs for “ conditions ” not previously defined as health problems. Thresholds for intervention tend to be lowered—for model, with blood imperativeness, lipids, and sugar. The persistent stress on complete physical wellbeing …

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