Difficulties in defining Health and Disease

This is quite a controversial and murky topic when it comes to science (which is something scientists are not always comfortable with let me assure you!). This is because, as you will see for yourself, it is really difficult to define health and disease. I tried to come up with a list of different conditions that might be difficult to classify as “healthy” or “not healthy” if we are to use the World Health Organization definition of health. That is a “complete state of physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

Complete the poll to see what you think. Also, I’d love to make this list even longer, comment with suggestions as to other conditions, which may be difficult to classify. This form of assessment for learning allowed my students to engage critically with the syllabus requirements and is an integral part of my teaching practice (Quality teaching in NSW Public Schools, 2003). Scroll to the bottom if you want to download the lesson in Word format.

Difficulties in Defining Heath Word Document

Quality teaching in NSW public schools. (2003). Retrieved from https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/proflearn/docs/pdf/qt_EPSColor.pdf

One thought on “Difficulties in defining Health and Disease

  1. I think one of the difficulties in assigning “healthy” vs “unhealthy” is that by defining a condition as one or the other, there’s also the appearance of assigning personal responsibility, or blame, to some degree. For example, we can agree that someone who suffers from autism or blindness, caused by an accident, is not experiencing optimal health. Yet, it seems more natural to say that someone who is overweight is “unhealthy” (or at least that is how it seems from the eyes of an obesity epidemiologist, anyway). On the other hand, by labeling something a disease, we remove some of the personal blame and stigma–such as the AMA’s new designation of obesity as an official disease last year. I think the same issue revolves around many mental illnesses: labeling can be so restrictive, and yet in some ways, for the sufferer, it can be liberating. One question I have , though, is how as scientists these labels affect our perception of a condition, how we think about it, and how we treat it.


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