The Social Nature of Health & Illness

The Social Nature of Health & Illness

How many of us are actually healthy?

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. WHO

The World Health Organization's definition of health clarifies further in the discussion of the many elements that "combine together to affect the health of individuals and communities." What is most interesting about WHO's health information is the less impactful factors of access and use of healthcare services. This understanding of health may seem shocking but there are many dimensions of health including financial, environment, genetics, education and most importantly social forces.  As a social creatures, human health is very much tied to their interactions and poor health can be indicative of poor relationships, social isolation, and many other psychosocial factors.

It should not surprise anyone that the unhealthiest of people inhabit financially, depressed areas where environmental pollution is high and there is low economic opportunity.  Blaming poor health on being poor lack critical thinking as health also becomes more difficult to maintain as people get older. Ageism, the universal prejudice, degrades individual health by forcing senior members of society to isolate. In the same respect, countries like the US, force citizens to pay for medical care which has the debilitating impact of reducing financial stability and thereby negatively impacting health.

Even if you practice healthy eating and you exercise, you may fall victim to poor health due to many factors beyond your control. For example, working in a dust-filled warehouse day in and day out has unknown health implications but logic would dictate this is not healthy. Equally unhealthy is sitting at a desk answering angry customer calls day in and day out as the stress and lack of physical activity prove bad for health.

If the World Health Organization’s definition of health is correct, then shouldn't all life areas be considered with this definition in mind? Perhaps this lack of forethought explains the current movement away from long term careers and lack of desire to return to jobs that ultimately limit health by economics, time, or negative physical and mental impact and often all elements. If money were the only factor keeping people from returning to work, then the end of Federal stimulus benefits would have been enough to return people to work. Explaining health, similar to the work shortage, is systemic of the problem of seeing issues as subjective or purely driven by financial problems.

While health and well-being may be subjective to some degree, there can be no doubt that social forces are wreaking havoc with modern human health. If eating properly and exercising were the only forces at work, then people could adopt these practices, feel better, and the overall population's health would increase. Instead, the fight to promote health continues to expand as building health capacity in communities and countries vies with a system of inequity. Counter to all health goals is the social inequity that demands people work time-consuming jobs often with low pay for minimal health benefits. The importance of social health would dictate that part of being healthy is creating a society that is healthy for everyone.


Donatelle, R. J. (2011). Health: The basics (Green ed.). Boston, MA: Benjamin Cummings.


Triola Vincent. Thu, Jan 21, 2021. The Social Nature of Health & Illness Retrieved from

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