A BROADER DEFINITION OF HEALTH

The successful implementation of initiatives to improve community health requires an understanding of the complex and diverse processes that produce health in communities. For both individuals and populations, health can be seen to depend not only on medical care, but also on other factors including individual behavior and genetic makeup, and social and economic conditions. The committee has adopted a broad definition of health, echoing a WHO (1986) health promotion perspective, that acknowledges multiple possible goals for the health system and underscores the important contributions to health that occur outside the formal medical care and public health systems. The committee definition allows improvement efforts to target not only the reduction of disease, disability, or death, but also an improvement in individuals' response to and perceptions of their illnesses; their functional capacity both now and in the future; and their overall sense of physical, emotional, and social well-being. The value of a broad measure thus rests in part upon the value attached to it by the population. Working within a definition of health that explicitly relies, in some measure, on community values is particularly important in a context of decision making for the allocation of limited resources.

Committee definition of health:

Health is a state of well-being and the capability to function in the face of changing circumstances.

Health is, therefore, a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources as well as physical capabilities. Improving health is a shared responsibility of health care providers, public health officials, and a variety of other actors in the community who can contribute to the well-being of individuals and populations.

As Syme (1996) notes, viewing health as a biomedical construct has limited our ability to integrate processes that produce health and to address the underlying causes of disease. Death, disability, and disease incidence—ascertained by using traditional biologic or epidemiologic measures—are all important and valid



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