“Health,” according to the World Health Organization, “is a state of full physical, mental and emotional well-being and not just the absence of illness and disease.” A number of different definitions have also been applied to this concept. For some people, it encompasses total health; for others it means being in good psychological health; while still others may be more narrow in their definition of health, believing that the state of being health encompasses having a capacity to love and be loved. The dictionary definition, which we have adapted to mean the best that one can do by oneself, leaves some wiggle room: “health” refers to the capacity to feel good about one’s health, ability to survive and perform adequately in the given situation, and ability to cope with normal circumstances. This last part is closely related to emotional well-being, which many people believe to be a vital component of health.
The Mayo Clinic uses three broad definitions of “good health,” which they believe are rooted in traditional culture and in medicine. The first of these is called functional or basic health, which they define as an ability to function independently and without pain and risk. According to this definition, physical activities are a major factor in maintaining a person’s functional capacity. The second definition is called primary health, which regards health as a basic good not just on a physiological level but also on a mental and emotional level. According to this definition, people gain access to resources and support through primary care that build a basis for optimal health.
According to the third definition, health care in the United States has moved far beyond the care of mere physical health. In fact, the definition of health care as we know it today was significantly influenced by the efforts of President Theodore Roosevelt and his administration to improve the health system. The resulting definition, today known as the Roosevelt System, emphasizes preventive measures and community integration in the treatment of diseases and helps to make the idea of health a community-based concept.
The fourth definition concerns the interdependence of health promotion and medical care. In other words, there is a strong interdependence between how well-informed a patient is about his health and the effectiveness of his medical care. According to this perspective, the success of any health promotion effort is dependent on the extent of knowledge about the determinants of well-being.
The fifth definition is termed the social-system approach and deals with the aspects of motivation, participation, organization, communication and conflict resolution as determinants of the life course. According to this view, people shape their own health and well-being as much as their environments do. It therefore follows that public health education, promotion of healthy behaviors, utilization of contraceptives, work related stress, social conflicts over gender, race and nationality, and economic status all play crucial roles in shaping an individual’s life course. This approach is based on the assumption that people create their own opportunities and potential for development.
The study also indicates that there exists considerable gender and racial disparity in the health outcomes and health care utilization of older adults. There are significant differences in the patterns of health care utilization by race/ ethnicity. Although there is no consistent pattern of racial/ethnic disparity in life course health, there are significant differences in the pattern of health care utilization by gender. As the baby boomer generation enters its senior years and enters the active labor force, these gaps will have to be addressed through effective health promotion strategies.