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Chapter: Sociology of Health : Sociology of Health

Definition of Health & Illness

Health is the basic human right of all the human beings. Health contributes to a person’s basic capability to function.

Definition of Health & Illness:





Health is the basic human right of all the human beings. Health contributes to a person’s basic capability to function. Denial of health is not only denial of ‘good lifechance’, but also denial of fairness and justice (Sen 2006). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated in Article 25: ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and his family….’(United Nations 1948). The Preamble to the World Health Organization (WHO) constitution affirms that it is one of the fundamental rights of every human being to enjoy the highest attainable standards of health. Article 21 of the Constitution of India also identifies health as an integral aspect of human life (Desai 2007). Further, Article 47 (Part IV: directive principles of state policy) says: The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavor to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health. However, the spirit of the constitution hardly gets reflected in the health policies and programmes in India. Definitions and conceptualization of health may vary systemically among various social groups and it is likely that different accounts of health are drawn according to social circumstances.



Following are some simple points to understand health:

·                 Heath is a metaphor for wellbeing. To be healthy means to be of sound mind and body; to be integrated; to be whole. Over time and across societies, influential theorists have emphasized that health consists of balance, of being centered. The concept of health can be applied to human parts, as when we say, ‘Your mother has a healthy heart’ or ‘Your father has a healthy psyche’. More generally, health refers to a holistic notion of individual wellbeing.


·                 One’s perspective on health is oriented by cultural values (Gilman, 1995). For example, contemporary Western medicine evaluates the health of a body organ or individual through a series of technological laboratory tests used to determine if indicators of structure, such as readings of radiographs, and function, such as kidney filtration rates, fall within a ‘normal’ range for this individual in these circumstances.


·                 The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and does not consist only of the absence of disease or infirmity".


Health is not just a matter personal choice, nor it is only a biological issue; patterns of wellbeing and illness are rooted in the organization of society.


This definition also confirmed health as a social issue and this is borne out by evidence which demonstrates that standards of health have varied over time and also from one society, culture and country to another. For example, what is considered as good health in a lowincome country such as Sri Lanka is very different to what is considered good health in the highincome UK. and insuring a safe environment.



·                 The biomedical approach which dominated the medical thought till the end of nineteenth century and based on the ‘germ theory of disease’ views health as an ‘absence of diseases’. This approach almost ignores the role of environmental, psychological and other sociocultural factors in defining health. The ecological approach views health as a dynamic equilibrium between man and his environment. For them, disease is maladjustment of the human organism to environment. The psychological approach states that health is not only related to the body but also to the mind and especially to the attitude of the individual. The sociocultural approach considers health as a product of the social and community structure. A functional definition of health implies the ability of a person to participate in normal social roles.



·                 A sociological understanding of health considers structural and social factors, rather than simply biological explanations of health and disease. It describes the complex relationship between structural factors and personal choice in relation to health inequalities.


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