Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a condition of “complete physical, mental and social health” and not just the absence of sickness and disease. Different definitions have been applied to it over time. Today, health is primarily a public concern, with the emphasis on individual health, family health, and pediatric health. While traditional views considered physical well being as the accumulation of outward symptoms such as discomforts, pain and swelling, this has changed in recent years. Now, health is seen as an integrated concept, embracing prevention as well as treatment of existing and potential illness, disease, and conditions.
The concept of health and illness is intertwined and interconnected, with poor health resulting from stress and poor mental wellbeing resulting from distress and untreated mental illness. Strictly speaking, public health is concerned with the condition of the general population. This, however, has been greatly expanded to include the well being of the mentally healthy as well as the physically healthy.
The interdependence of internal and external factors determines the course of individual behavior. Illness, whether temporary or chronic, is determined by these same determinants. Illness may result from exposure to environmental risks such as exposure to toxins, noise, air pollution, food additives, cigarette smoke, occupational hazards, and others. Mental illness is determined by social factors such as social support, discrimination, stress, violence, and others. These causes of illness can be addressed through various public health services.
Prevention is the primary objective of public health services. It attempts to avert illness and premature death by improving the overall health of an individual. Some examples of preventative measures are improved dietary practices, regular exercise, reduced exposure to environmental toxins, weight control, and others. The improvement of nutritional status is achieved by promoting the consumption of fruits and vegetables and other foods with good-quality vitamins and minerals. Physical activity is encouraged by involving the individual in some form of exercise, such as daily walking or jogging.
Medications are the most common form of treatment used to treat physical illness and disease. They have the goal of reducing the risk of death and other adverse effects of health. For prevention of death, drugs are recommended for use in combination with dietary and other preventive measures. As a secondary component of treatment, medications are also used to address the most serious complications of illness and disease. Common medication categories include anti-clotting agents, cholesterol lowering medications, asthma medications, cancer medications, and others.
Although complete physical and mental health is not possible, a balanced approach is necessary for optimal health. Public health professionals recognize that prevention is the best form of treatment and rely on the integration of prevention and screening techniques and other interventions aimed at maintaining optimal wellness. Illness is a major challenge to modern society. A healthy lifestyle is essential for improved wellbeing, but additional efforts are needed to define what it means for an individual to be healthy.