This week’s readings explore the idea of health and the various ways it is and has been defined. In “Rethinking the WHO Definition of Health,” Bok discusses the outdated definition of “health” provided by the World Health Organization within the Preamble to the Constitution of the WHO from the early 1940’s. The WHO definition illustrates “health” as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (1). Although this definition may have been applicable and appropriate for the time period during which it was written, implementing this definition in today’s society is difficult. As Bok alluded to, including “a complete state of well-being” in the definition of health today would be very problematic. This is because most people who consider themselves to be “healthy” also suffer from a variety of minor ailments such as allergies (7). This definition also conflicts with underlying moral and political issues (2); it was written during a time period with different health conditions, epidemics, and mortality rates, with much less medical knowledge than available today.
Rothstein’s article, on the other hand, focuses on the newer, alternative definitions of health and public health. He discuses three different types of more relevant definitions of public health, including “human rights as public health”, “population health as public health”, and “government intervention as public health.” The idea of “human rights as public health” involves social factors such as war, crime, poverty, illiteracy, and injustice (144). This definition is tricky, however, because it covers a very broad spectrum of social problems and creates a problematic method of training for public health officials. “Population health as public health” focuses on the health of the whole population and not just an individual (145). By this definition, public health includes insuring access to healthcare and providing preventative information. Yet it is inclusive of both private and public divisions, creating a broad approach to public health. “Government interventions as public health”, as Rothstein confers, is probably the most sensible and applicable definition for today’s society. It involves government officials taking appropriate actions to protect the health of the public while balancing private and public rights and interests (146).
After reading all of this week’s articles, it seems to me that the definition of health has been flexible in the past due to the ever-changing world around us. Although the definitions provided by Bok and Rothstein contradict each other and are from two very different times in history, it is interesting to compare and contrast them, and to notice that some facets of the idea of health have scarcely changed over time.