Finding a definition of the term ‘health’ that captures the current breadth of interpretations
and understanding is surprisingly challenging. A common reference point is the 1948 World
Health Organization (WHO) definition of health: ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’.
This definition introduces the psychological and social dimensions of health, moving beyond the medical model. It is attractive in its ability to simplify the concept of health into a concise definition and is therefore a useful point to build from.
Alternative definitions have since been developed, each progressing the understanding and
interpretation of the factors that shape health. Although we acknowledge
there are a number of lenses through which health can be viewed, our strategy to bring about
better health for people is influenced by the social determinants model, as illustrated
by the work of the WHO and the Institute of Health Equity on the social determinants of health.
Through this model, it is apparent that in order to improve health, it is essential to act on the
socially patterned ‘causes of the causes’. Differences in the underlying determinants of health contribute to health inequalities.
The recommended six policy objectives to reduce health inequalities:
• Give every child the best start in life.
• Enable all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives.
• Create fair employment and good work for all.
• Ensure a healthy standard of living for all.
• Create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities.
• Strengthen the role and impact of ill health prevention.
These policy recommendations represent action on the wider determinants of health: the political, social, economic, environmental and cultural factors that shape our health and its distribution.