If you ask most people to tell you what health means, or simply ask, what is health, you will come up with some interesting findings. I know, I’ve asked plenty of people. Most troubling to me are three observations.
- Most people will say words to the effect that health is not being sick.
- Very few people can talk about health without actually talking about disease.
- The above applies equally to most so-called health professionals.
The concept of health as a truely positive state seems to be beyond most people’s grasp. Perhaps that’s because the experience of health, real health, is also beyond their grasp.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as "a state of complete mental, physical and social wellbeing and not merely the absense of disease or infirmity." See that? Yes, a positive state. The WHO even goes so far as to explicitly state that health isn’t simply not being sick.
Now the U.S. government program Healthy People 2010 is an eye opener. One might expect the Department of Health And Human Services to know what health is and to at least get the rhetoric right. They do fine to a point. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are aptly named. However, their National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) loses the plot.
The NCHS describes Healthy People 2010 as "a comprehensive, nationwide health promotion and disease prevention agenda. Healthy People 2010 contains 467 objectives designed to serve as a road map for improving the health of all people in the United States during the first decade of the 21st century." In magnificent bureaucratic form it is said to have: "Two overarching goals–increase quality and years of healthy life, and eliminate health disparities–serve as a guide for developing objectives that will actually measure progress. The objectives are organized in 28 focus areas, each representing an important public health area."
Well these focus areas seem pretty important. Presumably, they must be where all the health action is to be found. If you think that then brace yourself for a disappointment. When the NCHS talks about health it too makes the error of confusing disease, pathology, morbidity and environmental threats to wellbeing with health. It’s like they have no clear idea at all about just what health, that wonderfully positive state, really is. Here are their focus areas.
Focus Areas at a Glance (28)
1. Access to Quality Health Services
2. Arthritis, Osteoporosis and Chronic Back Conditions
4. Chronic Kidney Disease
6. Disability and Secondary Conditions
7. Educational and Community-Based Programs
8. Environmental Health
9. Family Planning
10. Food Safety
11. Health Communication
12. Heart Disease and Stroke
14. Immunizations and Infectious Diseases
15. Injury and Violence Prevention
16. Maternal, Infant, and Child Health
17. Medical Product Safety
18. Mental Health and Mental Disorders
19. Nutrition and Overweight
20. Occupational Safety and Health
21. Oral Health
22. Physical Activity and Fitness
23. Public Health Infrastructure
24. Respiratory Diseases
25. Sexually Transmitted Diseases
26. Substance Abuse
27. Tobacco Use
28. Vision and Hearing
It isn’t that the people at NCHS have lost the plot so much as have never really known the plot. This program follows on from earlier ones that have run for decades. Guess what, there have been no serious outbreaks of health anywhere. They are doing no more than the proverbial rearranging of deckchairs on the Titanic.
Without a very clear understanding of health, including all of its determinants, it is impossible to effectively define health targets. Without such clarity any hope of significantly progressing towards health goals is little more than a pipe dream.
The NCHS’s present focus is really on disease in several areas of its manifestation. But disease is not health. Even the absense of disease is not health. Locked within their disease paradigm, with its associated misplaced belief in and reliance upon so-called scientific medicine, the front for the pharmaceutical industry, they are doomed to failure.
This will please Big Pharma, keep many people employed in the health sector (really the misnamed disease sector) and generally allow for the status quo. Meanwhile, people will keep suffering and dying earlier than necessary, be killed by medical errors in the tens of thousands every year and more government initiatives will be dreamed up by bureaucrats.
If you are comfortable in that system then good luck to you. You’ll need some. If not, then do something for your health now. Take action before it is too late. Some people never wake up from that pipe dream.