Publications

How should we define health?

Huber, M.; Knottnerus, J.A.; Green, L.; Horst, H. van der; Jadad, A.R.; Kromhout, D.; Leonard, B.; Lorig, K.; Loureiro, M.I.; Meer, J.W.M. van der; Schnabel, P.; Smith, R.; Weel, C. van; Smid, H.

Summary

The current WHO definition of health, formulated in 1948, describes health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” At that time this formulation was groundbreaking because of its breadth and ambition. It overcame the negative definition of health as absence of disease and included the physical, mental, and social domains. Although the definition has been criticised over the past 60 years, it has never been adapted. Criticism is now intensifying, and as populations age and the pattern of illnesses changes the definition may even be counterproductive. The paper summarises the limitations of the WHO definition and describes the proposals for making it more useful that were developed at a conference of international health experts held in the Netherlands