Définir la notion de santé

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“Health is a state of complete physical well-being, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO, 1946). This definition of the World Health Organization has not changed since 1946. It is the preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization adopted by the International Health Conference, New York June 22, 1946 and signed on 22 July by 61 countries. This definition emphasizes the overall subjective hand, contextual, multidimensional concept of health. In other words, a person in a wheelchair can be healthier than a person who has lost his job. Two people with exactly the same disease may have a completely different health.

“Health is a state of complete physical well-being, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO, 1946).

Etymology of the word “health”

The definition of health has changed over the centuries. The English term health appeared around 1000 BC. It comes from the Old English “hoelth” meaning to be safe or whole body and gave the word holistic. The word health comes from the Latin “saluto”, “salutavi”, “salutare.” It means keep alive, preserve. A second Latin word is related to health, “sano”, “sanare” which means making healthy, heal, repair, return to reason and “sanus”, “sana”, “sanum” which means healthy, healthy , reasonable. In Greek, health comes from the words “ugiès” be healthy and reasonable “ugieia” state of a healthy body.

Short story

The nineteenth century, health was seen as a capital (in English fitness), ie as a state form. This definition gave a mechanical value to health. A continuum ranged from the illness to optimal health. The organization could be conditioned, reinforced, driven, genetically transformed. Each organ was analyzed separately and functioning compared to a standard. This belief legitimized drifts like replacing body, refusing to grow old doping. It enabled the development of therapeutic based on building organic resources and medical specialty dedicated to an organ (cardiology, pulmonology, neurology…). Health was also designed at this time as the absence of disease, the “silence of the organs” wrote Paul Valery. Health professionals were focused on the symptoms and potential pathogens. Individuals were less attentive to the physical and mental abnormal signs. Confrontation to a pathogen should be avoided. This design allowed for the earliest biotech extraordinary feats to still smaller (the organ for the gene), (late screening treatment) and most urgent (sophistication of the emergency systems). It followed the reductionist approach of Louis Pasteur: symptoms, cause, mechanism, treatment, cure.

If these two concepts have led to unprecedented innovations over the past two centuries, they also allowed the healing supplant preventive particularly France. They also suggested that their medicine would become all-powerful and could cure all diseases and sufferings (Sicard, 2002). And do the craziest achieve immortality in some human projections…

The latest findings show how health is the product of a complex subject with its environment interaction, a genetic heritage with its ecological environment, social and cultural (epigenetics). This knowledge restore a balance between therapy and prevention, between treatments and care, between biology and psychology, between genes and lifestyle, between survival and quality of life (Ninot, 2019). They put light on ancient conceptions of health, the fruit of our behavior, our will and our biology interacting with our physical, social and cultural environment. In practice, this definition implies that intervention on the health of a human being can not be done without his knowledge, without understanding where it comes from and how it lives. As for professionals, a multidisciplinary team will be well advised to treat a health problem. The patient’s side, the modern definition of health implies that the patient is no longer passive but an actor of his health, ie it assumes some responsibility on treatment choices and prevention. A good example is the rehabilitation, non-pharmacological interventions (NPIs), and long-term process in which engages a patient with chronic respiratory disease.

What it means for patients

Health must be understood as a physical, mental well-being and social. It requires consideration of the feelings of the patient in making treatment decisions and prevention. It involves the participation of the individual in society, that is to say, its adaptation to living conditions and acceptance by others as a full member. Blog en Sante use this definition.

What it means for health professionals

Health defined by WHO since 1946 must be assessed by objective and subjective parameters in the area of prevention as in that of healing. Action for Health therefore belongs only caregivers. Meanwhile, educators can no longer have a monopoly on prevention, caregivers have a crucial role to play.Blog en Sante use this definition.

What it means for researchers

Health can not be limited to a few clinical signs (e.g., recovery heart rate), a few biomarkers (e.g. ,the rate of white blood cell in the blood), responding to a summary examination (how are you this morning?) or a statement of social status (what is your profession?). So there is a biological, psychological and social reality in the contemporary concept of health need to be considered in the mechanistic, observational and interventional studies. Blog en Sante use the definition of health 1946.

What it means for Policymakers

Health care is a right for all. This right is contained in the preamble of the 1958 Constitution, and the Declaration of the Rights of the Child 1959 WHO had set in 1977 aims to reach by 2000 everyone in the world to a level of health that will permit them “to lead a socially and economically productive life.” Work remains to be done…


Ninot G (2019). Guide professionnel des interventions non médicamenteuses. Paris: Dunod.
Sicard D (2002). La médecine sans le corps: Une nouvelle réflexion éthique. Paris: Plon.
Word Health Organisation (1946). Actes officiels de l’Organisation Mondiale de la Santé (n°2). Geneva: WHO.

To reference this Blog en Sante © article.

Ninot G (2019). Definition of health. Blog en Santé, L1.

© Copyright 2019 Grégory Ninot. All rights reserved.