Health is a universally important aspect of human life. Years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) (www.who.int) defined health as the "state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity" (WHO 1948). A more contemporary version of this definition, with an important expansion, is provided by David Byrne (2004), the European commissioner for health and consumer protection, who views good health as "a state of physical and mental well-being necessary to live a meaningful, pleasant and productive life. Good health is also an integral part of thriving modern societies, a cornerstone of well performing economies, and a shared principle of European democracies," which can readily be extended to all democracies. In fact, health is a priority in all nations, although the resources available for the pursuit of health vary widely across nations (Reinhardt, Hussey, and Anderson 2004). The reader can find current 1
information on international health expenditure comparisons for the 30 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), all of which share a commitment to democratic government and market economies, at www.oecd.org.
The way in which health is defined by any nation is important because it reflects the nation's values regarding health, the resources it is prepared to devote to the pursuit of health, and how far the nation would be willing to go in aiding or supporting the pursuit of health among its citizens. A nation in which health is defined broadly and in positive terms—such as the definition provided by Byrne above—will obligate itself to pursue a variety of significant interventions in its efforts to help its members attain desired levels of health. The enormous range of possible targets for intervention in the pursuit of health in any society is illustrated by the fact that health in human beings is a function of many variables, or health determinants as they are often called.
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