Demystifying Health!

This report in the Demystifying Series on Health from the Valuing Nature Programme discusses the contested and complex concept of ‘health’ reflecting on the many different definitions and conceptualisations. 

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A group of 80 contributors provided input to the community report which was led by Rebecca Lovell, European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School.

Download Demystifying Health paper:



From the early English definition of ‘hælth’, as a notion of whole’ ‘a thing that is complete in itself’ to the WHO’s famous ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ and more modern conceptualisations of health ‘as a complex adaptive system’, how we understand the concept of health is highly variable and contextual, and reflects shifts in society. ‘Health’ is therefore an ideal candidate for the second in the Valuing Nature Demystifying… series.

‘Good health – it depends on who you are, where you live, the society around you, and in particular on the person you are. There is no common denominator. What is good for one, cannot help 2000’. (Arctic Fisherman)1 


The Contributor Group.

Group members contributed to the Valuing Nature Demystifying Health document by:

  1. Answering a small number of questions relating to the concept of health
  2. Reviewing and commenting upon an initial draft version of the paper
  3. Reviewing and commenting upon a final draft version of the paper



The Demystifying Health Contributor Group addressed the following topics:

  1. What is health, how is it defined, how do definitions vary?
  2. What is the relationship between health and related concepts such as wellbeing, quality of life and so on?
  3. What are the determinants of health?
  4. What is health promotion, public health, and preventative health, and what are health interventions?
  5. How is health measured and assessed? What are key health metrics?
  6. What is the state of public health in the UK?  
  7. What are the key health policies and strategies in the UK? How do international factors affect UK health activity? What are the key health decision making points?
  8. How is health is affected (positively and negatively) by the environment and what are the key decision points in which the environment-health links could be reflected?

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1 Sturmberg, J. P. (2013). Health: A Personal Complex-Adaptive State. In J. P. Sturmberg & C. M. Martin (Eds.), Handbook of Systems and Complexity in Health (pp. 231-242). New York, NY: Springer New York.