Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a state of full physical, mental and emotional well being and not just the absence of sickness and disease. A number of definitions have since been applied to the concept of health, and some are still in use today. An individual’s level of health can be influenced by his or her genetic make up and circumstances surrounding their formative years.
As the definition of health evolves and becomes more specific and complex, a greater amount of importance is placed on developing health behaviors and attitudes. There are a variety of health behaviors and attitudes that need to be implemented for an individual to maintain optimal levels of health. The ways in which individuals interact with each other and with the physical environment are influences of these behaviors. Engaging in health promotion activities, such as promoting good nutrition and incorporating exercise into one’s daily routine, has been shown to significantly improve health. These activities may include educating children about healthy eating and exercise, conducting community events to inform people about current issues regarding health and diseases, and implementing laws that require employers to provide a reasonable amount of workers’ compensation.
Although there has been much progress in reducing health disparities between races and gender, there are still some areas where health differences remain. One major example of such an area is infant mortality, which has been found to be greater for black infants than for white infants. Infant mortality rates have been found to be greater for certain racial/ethnic groups due to factors such as higher exposure to toxins, higher levels of stress and less care by mothers, lower educational attainment of mothers, greater health behaviours and less contact with the outdoors, which could be associated with increased vulnerability to environmental risk factors. These factors may prevent black infants from living past 5 years.
By identifying and addressing health care needs and issues, public health professionals can also promote better overall health. An effective public health program that focuses on prevention and early detection of conditions can help identify existing problems and prevent future ones from developing. This is especially important in preventing the spread of diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular illnesses. Prevention is always better than cure. Public health professionals can address health issues by monitoring the general trends in smoking prevalence, food consumption and purchase, alcohol consumption, use of medications and proportions of people who engage in physical activity.
Health promotion strategies rely heavily on identifying and addressing social determinants of health. The social environment and the role of family in shaping peoples’ health has been recognized as key contributors to the patterns of good health. There are several social determinants of health, such as general physical health, psychosocial well-being, educational opportunity and level of SES. The reduction of social determinants of health will allow researchers to more accurately pinpoint and measure specific areas of improvement in the health of an individual.
An effective public health program furthermore requires the active participation of all individuals. The identification and measurement of target populations is crucial to its success, and this includes identifying persons at high risk for illness or risk of death. An innovative measure taken by a community health office can thus significantly reduce mortality rates, while also encouraging healthy lifestyle choices and enhancing general well-being.