The Social Context of Health

There are a number of ways in which health can be defined, some argue that to be healthy you must be free from any form of disease or abnormality others state to be healthy depends on your biopsychosocial approach, your ability to satisfy the demands of life, your health as a result of your past, your lifecycle, your culture and also your personal responsibility.

However in 1946 the World Health Organisation (WHO) defined health as  “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity is one of the fundamental rights of every human being…. and is dependant upon the fullest co-operation of individuals and States. Governments have a responsibility for the health of their peoples which can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures. ” www. who. org This definition by WHO is recognised worldwide, but it doesn’t mean that it is right and everyone must agree with it, as the biomedical model states that illness is always due to abnormalities in the body’s functioning, and to be healthy one must be free from disease.

This model is the basis of modern western medical practice. The biomedical model of health came about from the enlightment after the 16th century, which focused on shedding light on the world. It looked into discovering the nature of the world and ‘man’. This model works on the theory that if a part of the body isn’t working effectively it should be fixed or replaced, in the same way that a piece of machinery would be repaired. This links in with the technical skills and interventions often used in today’s medicine. Observation is a key aspect of biomedical health and it is a reductionisms view of illness.

This means that it takes the simplest possible cause of an illness and applies the simplest cure. The biomedical model singles out one factor that may cause an illness and doesn’t take time to consider other possible factors that may have lead to certain illnesses. Hardey, M (1998) the Social Context of Health. For example the biomedical model would say smoking is the cause of lung cancer, but not all smokers get lung cancer so other factors must be involved. Yet the biomedical model does not differentiate between illness and heath and suggests that if you are not ill you are healthy.

This doesn’t encourage or promote healthy lifestyles in people, as one might think that if they are smoking, drinking excessively, not exercising and eating a high fat diet and don’t feel ill then it is fine to continue with these bad habits, when in-fact this is untrue. Blaxter, M (2004) Health As well as the biological factors that might result in one becoming unwell there are also social factors that can be linked. This isn’t really surprising to think that individuals with restricted housing, transport, education, income and employment opportunities, are at greater risk of ill health than those who are relatively better off.

Societies are quite often divided into different cultural, religious, and economic groups and it is apparent that certain diseases are more prevalent among some members of a community than others. Even our lifespan is determined by social factors as well as predetermined genetic factors. The social model of health takes an all round holistic approach to health and it incorporates many differences of importance, though it doesn’t recognise that social factors such as poverty have to be included in a model of the causes of ill health. Annandale, E (1998) The Sociology of Health Medicine

Along with the World Health Organisation definition, listed are a number of functions of the governments, one being, “to promote in co-operation with specialised agencies where necessary the improvement of nutrition, housing, sanitation, recreation, economic, or working conditions and other aspects of environmental hygiene. ” www. who. org. Therefore, the social model of health can be described as a theoretical structure within which improvements in health and well-being are achieved by directing effort towards addressing the social and environmental determinants of health.

The social model of health considers a person as a whole rather than a series of bodily systems; it expands beyond the medical model encompassing a broad definition of well-being. Unlike the biomedical model of health, the social model accepts that health is determined by more than just biology. Social determinants of health include culture, education, socio-economic status and geographical location. Many of these determinants are factors beyond the control of an individual.

A social model of health looks at how community infrastructure is critical in preventing ill health and in creating socially good health outcomes for all members of society. Blaxter, M (2004) Health Using the same example used to show the biomedical model of health, lung cancer, may be described by the social model as being caused by; a culture of unhealthy eating or smoking, a family situation where others smoke causing passive smoking, a hereditary disposition to the disease and the patient themselves smoking.

From looking closely at both the biomedical and social models of health it is clear that the social model takes a more holistic approach to health by looking at ones life and lifestyle, and by not automatically taking medication but instead looking into the causes and factors that lead to the illness unlike the biomedical model, which focuses mainly on the functioning of the body parts, and a direct cause of one feeling unwell.

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