Thirty years ago, people may have defined health primarily in doctors, hospitals and drugs. Today people have a much broader image of what it means to be healthy. People’s views of healthiness include; healthy eating, taking vitamins and regular exercise, to therapy, sensible drinking and healthy social relationships. Sociology of health is not confined to the narrow, area of medicine. According the World Health Organisation(WHO), health is ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. This is all-inclusive definition focuses on a positive view of health, rather than regarding health merely as not being ill. This definition could be argued as being overly idealistic and too broad as, in reality, most of us are not completely physically, mentally well at any one time. Using this definition we are unhealthy if we have a headache or are a bit fed up. Another problem is that it sees health as an absolute term in that it fails to take into account the notion that, within any given society, people understand different things by the concept of health – that it can change over time and between cultures. According to Dubos(1987) good health involves being able to function effectively. This implies that being healthy or ill are relative experiences/ concepts. From this standpoint, health means very different things to different people and the health of an individual can be judge against, for example, their gender, age and occupation. For example, a young, male professional athlete may well have a very different conception of health and wellbeing compared with an elderly, wheelchair-bound female. This view that health is a relative concept will be explored in the subsection on the social construction of health and illness. Illch(2002) proposes a much more critical definition of health. He suggests that we can only function effectively and experience health and wellbeing if we can come to terms with and accept our less than perfect physical and mental condition. Illch argues that healthy people consciously accept the inevitability of ageing and ultimately, death. From this point of view, we are healthy when we accept that we are inevitably going to feel ill, pain and sickness and we take responsibility for this. Illch is critical of medicines as it has robbed people of the capacity to deal with their own wellbeing. Bio-medical approaches
Taylor and Field(2007) note:
Medical research is focused primarily on biochemical or genetic processes underlying disease. Most medical work involves diagnosing and treating abnormalities within the body, and the education and training of most health professionals, particularly doctors, revolves around understanding the human body and intervening in the disease process. Evaluation of the bio-medical model of health
Sheeran(1995) has noted the increasingly successful practical applications of the principles of medical knowledge in the west. However, the sociology of health and illness has been built up around a critique of the medical model of understanding health and illness, and has raised several important criticisms. Defining health: it can be criticised for ‘failing to recognise the relativity of health and illness.’ Also what counts as being healthy or ill is socially constructed. Furthermore, if a positive definition of health is adopted, then ill-health is a normal experience. The cause of ill-health: the focus on treating symptoms by appling scientific or medical solutions ignores the wider social conditions which may have causec the illness or disease in the first place such as pollution or poverty. Research has also shown that ill-health is caused by multiple factors and, rather than illness being randomly distributed, there are definite social patterns by social class, gender and ethnicity. Medical treatment:
-NHS has become firmly based on curative medicine and only a very small percentage of its...