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Redefining Health

By: Jaclyn Kotora, Contributing Writer

Edited by: Olivia Storti, Editor; Eve Nevelos, Editor in Chief

The term “healthy” and “health” get thrown around a lot. Some say that health can be defined by BMI and body size. Others may argue that health is determined by the number of vegetables one eats or how many minutes they exercise each day. Over the years, the idea of health has shifted drastically, promoting a false definition of health to people, especially adolescents. Our understanding of the word “healthy” is derived from our culture, religion, family, friends, job, media, healthcare workers, and society as a whole. However, that definition is warped and promotes harmful behaviors and mindsets. By accurately redefining health in society, individuals may successfully and effectively work to reach life’s full potential with reduced risk of harmful behavioral changes and mental health issues.

Health is defined in a myriad of ways, depending on the source that is defining it. . The Oxford dictionary defines health as “a state of being, free from illness or injury”. The Merriam-Webster dictionary states that health is “the condition of being well or free from disease” in body, mind, and spirit. Researchers publishing in The Lancet defined health as the ability of a body to adapt to new threats and infirmities (Medical News Today).

The Pan African Medical Journal goes on to explain, “references to “health” are used in a non-medical context. For example: “efforts to build a healthy economy” or a sports team having a “healthy starting line-up.” With so many possible applications of the word, the question arises as to what it actually means to be healthy. The word “health” is derived from an old English word, “hale”, which means “wholeness, being whole or sound.” Despite its origins, there are several etymological meanings and these definitions have evolved over time.

The modern-day and most widely accepted definition of health, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,, wholistically emphasizing mental and social health as meaningful aspects of healthcare living besides just physical health. The concept of physical health is centered around a state of balance. Many associate health with certain foods and diets, when in reality, healthy eating centers around balanced nutrition--- adequately proportioned calories, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, and other nutrients. NEDA explains, “In order to fulfill your body’s nutritional needs, you need to consume adequate portions of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Some or all of these macronutrients are present in every food group, so there is no biological or chemical need to cut any group out (unless instructed by a doctor). The phrase “everything in moderation” is highly applicable--there is in fact a place for everything in your eating.”

Additionally, contrary to popular belief, BMI (Body Mass Index) is not a proper indicator of physical health. “A study conducted by Margaret Ashwell examined the relationship between BMI and health outcomes in 300,000 patients; this study found that BMI was a poor predictor of risk for diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and stroke. Studies such have established BMI as a poor measurement tool for determining patient health and for predicting future health outcomes,” says the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). There are other drawbacks for the use of BMI, the main one being that BMI does not take into account one’s muscle mass, activity level, age, and ethnicity, all determining factors in what an individual’s “healthy” weight is.

Especially in recent decades, more emphasis has been placed on mental health issues, for mental health is just as vital as physical health in terms of overall well-being. While mental health is a broad concept with no singular definition, mental health issues can be determined when these mindsets, behaviors, etc. interfere in everyday living and tasks, preventing a person from enjoying life, bounce back after challenges, balance different elements of life, feel safe and secure, and achieve their full potential (Medical News Today).

For those wishing to reach a certain value of “health”, it is important to note that there is not one image of health. An individual’s measure of health derives from many different factors like genetics, socio-cultural factors, and the environment, which make concretely defining what health “looks like” an impossible task. To obtain a healthy state of being, focus on all aspects of health, maintaining an overall individual state of well-being and balance, not what society defines as “healthy”.

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