Health, in the United States, has been defined as a condition that is of “excellent” or “good” health. According to the World Health Organization, health is “an optimum condition of total physical, emotional and social well being and not just the absence of illness and infirmity.” Various definitions have been applied over the years for various purposes.
Health is considered a primary determinant of all other social determinants, including life expectancy and economic conditions. Therefore, healthy people are more likely to be in good health and to live longer than those who are unhealthy. The most important determinants of health status are vital characteristics of a person’s lifestyle and environment.
Each health system has certain ways of determining health status and its importance on the current status of a person and his/her family. In the United States, a person’s “general health” is determined by using a complex set of questions designed to specify a person’s risk for various diseases, health hazards (which can also be caused by exposure to the environment), social risks (which can be caused by discrimination, stigma, or lack of social support) and past behavior. These health system determinants are then translated into “clinical outcomes” using nationally recognized statistical analysis methods. The health system takes into account the age of the person, sex, education, living circumstances, practices (which can be categorized into preventative, community, and primary care), health service utilization and other characteristics of the person and his/her family. All of these components are taken into account to provide a standard picture of the health status of the population.
The questionnaires are also used to gather additional information on several specific areas. The most common questions posed to all participants include questions addressing demographics (which can include age, race, gender, SES, place of residence, education, marital status and other sociocultural characteristics), personal practices (which can include use of healthcare, participation in community activities, use of healthcare resources and insurance coverage), medication use, and environmental factors (which include exposure to environmental toxins, air pollution and stress). Collecting health data can also be a useful tool in research studies. For example, knowing the demographics of participants in a particular health study can help researchers understand how health differences between groups are related to prevalent health problems. Similarly, knowing what users do each day when they visit their health care providers can help researchers understand how such users choose their healthcare providers.
As mentioned earlier, health insurance is designed to complement (not supplant) the health care system. In order to better understand the relationship between health insurance and the health determinants described above as well as other important aspects of social determinants (such as SES), a more in-depth understanding of health insurance and public health is needed. For this purpose, a literature review focusing on health characteristics and current well-being will likely not yield useful results.
Health and well-being can be influenced by three independent but interacting agents. These agents are nature, social context and treatment. For example, natural environments may have strong influences on both individual health and the health of those with whom they interact. Social context on the other hand plays an important role in shaping health and its determinants. A state of complete physical, psychological and social well-being is influenced by these three independent but interacting agents in different ways.