The concept of lay health

To summarise, the aim of the present paper was to investigate the extent to which ‘lay perceptions of health are rooted in the social experience of people’ (Marks, 2005) by utilising research evidence. Evidence came from a number of authors who interviewed numerous lay people in various social groupings and situations enquiring as to their health beliefs. After collating the evidence it seems that one should be careful of its initial face value, however, collectively, the findings can be related.

For example, Herlizch (1973), Pill and Stott (1982), and Williams (1983) all found similar health beliefs, for example, health being an absence of illness or disease, however the samples from Pill and Scott (1982) and Williams (1983) subscribed different meanings to the belief. Middle-aged mothers emphasised health in functional terms, specifically, to be able to ‘cope’ whereas elderly people denoted health as the ability to overcome an already present disease.

The subjects in D’Houtard and Field (1984), Calnan and Johnson (1985) and Calnan’s (1987) all expressed the importance of having the ability to work as a function of being healthy which were subsequently linked to socio-economic statues. Calnan and Johnson (1985) noticed that upper-class people viewed health in a more positive manner as did D’Houtard and Field (1984), in addition, both studies finding that upper-class people tended to express the importance of being active, viewing healthy as the norm.

The findings from Flick (2000) demonstrated how perception’s of health can potentially be influenced by a countries economy, exhibited in the way German women reported to obtain their information about health from family members such as, parents or grandparents, whereas the Portuguese women tended to obtain their knowledge on their own or from books, journals, television and doctors. In light of the evidence, the concept of lay health beliefs is still however problematic.

Consider the way research investigates lay health and/or illness perceptions. If a study takes into account both perceptions of health and illness, participants may over-shadow one over the other, meaning one will become its opposite. A problem identified by D’Houtard and Field (1984). Calnan questions the assertion that it is the experience of material deprivation and adverse social conditions which leads to people subscribing to functional definitions of health (Calnan, 1987).

He suggested a possible alternative explanation in which social class differences in concepts of health are products of the social context of the research interview. The more elaborate responses to questions about health gathered from middle-class respondents were due to nature of the interaction between the interviewer and interviewee. Middle-class interviewers may be more successful in developing rapport with interviewees from similar social backgrounds (Calnan 1987: 35). Secondly, most research was conducted in the 70’s and 80’s.

Environments change rapidly, including health care knowledge and with the rapid, widespread growth of the internet one must acknowledge that professional knowledge be can so freely passed and draw upon. This brings me onto my final point. In an article titled ‘How lay are lay belief’s? ‘, Ian Shaw (2002) argues that when people search for meanings, they adopt a professional explanation and interpretation about their health and illness consequently accepting this rationality.

He points that in general the public is bombarded by professional messages and concepts of health, for example, on TV or in newspapers including medical columns, so as a result, the discourse surrounding this particular problem is dominated by a professional rationality. Creating a distinction between the lay and the professional belief system is fundamentally the original rationale for making a distinction between lay and professional health beliefs.

Before I begin introducing the research evidence investigating the claim that ‘lay perceptions of health are rooted in the social experience of people’ (Marks, 2005) I feel its necessary to first breakdown this statement into smaller sections and discuss the …

Turning away now from health concepts derived from particular social groups, we focus our attention on D’Houtard and Field’s (1984) study who examined the relationship between health concepts and social class on a sample of 4000 respondents from Lorraine in …

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Over recent years, measures of health status have increasingly opted for measures of subjective health status, that ask the individuals themselves to rate their health. These types of measures are known as quality of life scales. But what is ‘quality …

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