According to the World Health Organization, health is the state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. Healthy people engage in activities that improve their overall well-being and avoid or reduce those that are detrimental to their health. Health is the result of a complex interaction between genetics, lifestyle, and environment. Certain factors affect the state of health, including environmental conditions, and others are more genetic or structural in nature. This article will review some of the major factors that influence health and provide tips on how to improve it.
The definition of health must be broad enough to encompass the entire life span and address the varying levels of health. It cannot simply be about preventing diseases and reducing risk factors; it must also consider individuals and their value systems. For example, a fragile individual may suffer a heart attack if the shovel he or she is using is heavy. Similarly, a sea-level dweller may experience shortness of breath or anemia if he is living in a mountain. Therefore, any definition of health must consider the context of an individual and the environment in which he or she lives.
The WHO definition of health is an important clarion call to international action. In the mid-1950s, life expectancy worldwide was 48 years for men and 53 years for women. Infant mortality, such as diphtheria and polio, was an important contributor to low life expectancies. In addition to these two factors, chronic diseases have changed dramatically since then. In mid-century, heart disease, cancer, and stroke ranked as the top three causes of death. Thankfully, those numbers have increased dramatically.
Despite the interrelationships among factors, interventions targeting several determinants of health are the most effective for improving population health. In addition to health care and public health, the determinants of health extend beyond traditional health care sectors, including the social sectors. Other sectors such as education and government policies are important allies in improving population health. Increasing taxes on tobacco, alcohol, and other unhealthy products, for example, can improve health. And finally, policies at the local, state, and federal level have an effect on health and well-being.
Fortunately, the government has taken steps to improve health equity among diverse communities. In addition to the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s Executive Order on Ensuring Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery addresses the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has on underserved and communities of color. The Executive Order directs federal agencies to strengthen equity data collection, make sure that resources are allocated equitably, and conduct an outreach campaign focused on improving vaccine confidence among underserved populations.
Changing organizational structure and culture is an important step in advancing value-based health care. First of all, the organization must shift from a siloed model to a patient-centered one. A patient-centered approach requires a transition from a siloed practice model to an integrated practice unit, which integrates the work of both clinical and nonclinical personnel. A healthy organization focuses on patient-centered care, and its workforce should reflect this new model.