The most widely quoted quantitative definition of health is "the absence of disease." The most widely quoted qualitative definition of health is "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity" (WHO; World Health Organization, 1948). The WHO definition of health was developed at the International Health Conference in New York on July 22, 1946, at which 61 nations were represented. Three significant aspects to the WHO definition are worthy of consideration. The first is insistence on health being not simply the absence of illness. The second is inclusion of psychological and social dimensions of health. The third is recognition of the importance of the application of psychology to health care.
The WHO definition of health was expanded in Canada in 1986. The expansion was in terms of broadening the concept from the individual to the family, to the community, and to public policy (Yoe, 1993). In a discussion document released by Health and Welfare Canada, health was defined as "a resource which gives people the ability to manage and even change their surroundings . . . a basic and dynamic force in our lives, influenced by our circumstances, our beliefs, our culture and our social, economic and physical environments" (Health and Welfare Canada, 1986, p. 3). The Canadian definition of health involves an active concept. It allows psychological and social determinants greater prominence. It also impels both an individualistic and a collectivistic view of health. Finally, it places greater emphasis on individual-environment interactions than on individual traits (Health and Welfare Canada, 1988). In the Canadian definition of health, environment is "interpreted in its broadest sense, and includes not only our physical surroundings, both natural and artificial, but also the social, cultural, regulatory and economic conditions and influences that impinge on our everyday lives" (p. 4).
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