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Defining Health


How do you define health ?

Health is a complex concept, and has been defined in many ways by different individuals and groups over time. One key point of agreement however, is that health is more than the just absence of disease. Below are a few examples of ways in which the concept of health has been explained.

Canadian Public Health Association:

"To reach a state of complete physical, mental and social well being, an individual or group must be able to identify and to realize aspirations, to satisfy needs, and to change or cope with the environment. Health is, therefore, seen as a resource of everyday life, not the objective of living. Health is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities."[1]

First Nations:

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"Good health is a balance of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual elements. All four interact together to form a strong, healthy person. If we neglect one of these elements, we get out of balance and our health suffers in all...Everything we need has been provided by our common mother, the earth...When we combine these gifts with an active lifestyle, a positive attitude, and peaceful and harmonious relations with other people and the spiritual world—good health will be ours."[2]


World Health Organization: 

"Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."[3]



Which one of these definitions of health do you most identify with?


Is there anything missing from the definitions of health presented above?





1. The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, 1986. Available at: Accessed July 2005.

2. Malloch, L. Indian medicine, Indian health: Study between red and white medicine. Canadian Women Studies 1989;10:105-112.

3. Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.

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