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How do we understand health?

Health – a complex term that can be defined in various ways. In medicine, health is understood as the absence of disease or infirmity, though now we see health more holistically where it means the state of physical, mental and social well-being (WHO, 1948). At Level You 2.0 we are proponents of this holistic approach, we seek to nurture one’s consciousness by spreading science-based knowledge about health.

There are various contributing factors to the state of health. These factors were mapped by Dahlgren and Whitehead (1991) into a so-called ‘rainbow model‘ which links the relationship between the individual, their environment and health (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Major contributing factors which influences health (Dahlgren and Whitehead, 1991).

At the centre of the model are individual factors such as age, gender, genetics, with which we are born and can not change. Our genes can have a significant effect on the onset of disease. For example, an FTO gene which depending on the race increases the risk of obesity by 40% (Ruiz et al., 2010). This means that the carrier of the FTO gene is 40% more likely to become obese due to disrupted activity of ghrelin and leptin, hormones of hunger and satiety (Benedict et al., 2014).

Around the innate traits, we find modifiable factors which depend on individual actions or public policy. Individual lifestyle factors include exercise, smoking, consumption of alcohol, nutrition. Science has already proved that lifestyle can have a significant impact on longevity. For instance, residents in Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan) live much longer compared to people in other parts of the developed world. This can be contributed to healthier lifestyle choices including abstaining from smoking, regular physical activity, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, social engagement (Rizzuto and Fratiglioni, 2014).

Next follows social and community networks. Although everyone from time to time prefers to spend some time alone, we still need a group of people around us to share our thoughts and feelings, those who would support us no matter what. A study by Ståhl et al. (2001) investigated the relationship between our social environment and physical activity in six countries. Those who perceived low social support from their environment were twice more likely to be sedentary and disengage from exercise compared to those who felt supported by their personal environment.

Of particular importance are living and working conditions including work environment, housing, education, health care services. The importance of the work environment was highlighted during quarantine when people had to learn to work from home and establish the life-work balance. In addition, education not only gives knowledge but also enables one to make better decisions related to health. People with higher education are less likely to have depression, experience less anxiety and have fewer problems with health in general (Cutler and Lleras-Muney, 2006). Respectively, education allows finding a higher-paid job that provides better working conditions as well as health insurance. All these factors contribute to better health.

Last but not least are socioeconomic, cultural and environmental conditions such as taxes, income, social norms. These are related to public policy, for example, higher taxes for tobacco products to deter people from smoking which consequently would diminish the onset of smoking-related diseases (Forest Research, 2010). 

 

Although some health factors we can not change, we are still choosing the way we lead our lives. Level You 2.0 mission is to encourage you to make better decisions related to health, help you to find the balance in your body so you would live your life to the fullest.

    References

    1. Benedict, C., Axelsson, T., Söderberg, S., Larsson, A., Ingelsson, E., Lind, L. and Schiöth, H.B. 2014. Fat mass and obesity-associated gene (FTO) is linked to higher plasma levels of the hunger horone ghrelin and lower serum levels of the satiety hormone leptin in older adults. Diabetes. 63(11), pp.3955–3959.
    2. Cutler, D.M. and Lleras-Muney, A. 2006. Education and Health: Evaluating Theories and Evidence [Online]. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research. [Accessed 19 May 2021]. Available from: http://www.dh.gov.uk/PolicyAndGuidance/HealthAndSocialCareTopics/HealthInequalities/fs/en.
    3. Dahlgren, G. and Whitehead, M. 1991. Policies and strategies to promote social equity in health [Online]. Stockholm: Institute for Future Studies. [Accessed 19 May 2021]. Available from: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/6472456.pdf.
    4. Forest Research 2010. Benefits of green infrastructure [Online]. Farnham: Forest Research. [Accessed 20 May 2021]. Available from: https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/documents/2515/urgp_benefits_of_green_infrastructure.pdf.
    5. Rizzuto, D. and Fratiglioni, L. 2014. Lifestyle factors related to mortality and survival: A mini-review. Gerontology. 60(4), pp.327–335.
    6. Ruiz, J.R., Labayen, I., Ortega, F.B., Legry, V., Moreno, L.A., Dallongeville, J., Martínez-Gómez, D., Bokor, S., Manios, Y., Ciarapica, D., Gottrand, F., De Henauw, S., Molnár, D., Sjöström, M. and Meirhaeghe, A. 2010. Attenuation of the effect of the FTO rs9939609 polymorphism on total and central body fat by physical activity in adolescents: The HELENA study. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 164(4), pp.328–333.
    7. Ståhl, T., Rütten, A., Nutbeam, D., Bauman, A., Kannas, L., Abel, T., Lüschen, G., Rodriquez, D.J.A., Vinck, J. and Van Der Zee, J. 2001. The importance of the social environment for physically active lifestyle - Results from an international study. Social Science and Medicine. 52(1), pp.1–10.