Although since 1948 the World Health Organization (WHO) has defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, it is believed that 75% of health-related studies concern only the physical component.
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Research of The McKinsey Institute of Health surveyed the opinions of residents of 19 countries such as Argentina, Brazil, India, Nigeria, China, Japan, the United States, among others, to understand how communities around the world define health and what factors they think influence this.
In general, respondents rated the four dimensions of health: physical, mental, social, and spiritual (the latter understood as belonging, purpose, and identity rather than strict religious belief).
These were the main findings:
All dimensions of health are rated as important
Approximately 85% of the total rate mental and physical health as very important or extremely important; 70% and 62% respectively used these two ratings to describe the importance placed on social health and spiritual health. People of different ages took part in the survey, therefore similar proportions of younger and older respondents rated physical and mental health as important, while social and spiritual health were rated as less important by older respondents.
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Age does not always equate to perceived health
Levels of self-rated health showed no significant difference in relation to age. 70% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 said they had good or very good general health, while 60% of people between the ages of 75 and 84 said the same. When it comes to mental health, the numbers change, in 15 of the 19 countries a higher percentage of respondents aged 65+ rated their mental health as good or very good than those under 24 who did ; this ties in with recent studies highlighting that members of Gen Z report lower mental health.
There is a negative correlation between life expectancy at birth and perceived health
Respondents living in countries with higher life expectancy at birth are not necessarily considered healthier. For example, within the 19 countries consulted, Japan has the highest life expectancy at birth, but respondents from that country rate their health the worst. Nigeria is the country with the lowest life expectancy at birth but records high health perception; This phenomenon may indicate that improved living conditions contribute to better perceived health than is reported in countries that have long had high life expectancy.
People who feel supported in their needs report better health
Environmental support contributes to maintaining a level of optimal health. The study found that 80% of respondents who reported high support rated their health as good or very good, compared to only 40% who reported low support from family and friends.
For people with illnesses, this support changes: 50% of people with an illness report poor support from public health systems, compared to 35% of people without any disease. 30% of people with mental illness reported poor support from family and friends, compared to 10% of people without mental illness.
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Towards a modernized approach to health
Taking a broader approach is necessary to create lasting, meaningful and material changes in society’s attitudes and actions to achieve its full potential to improve health. If people, companies and countries expand their understanding of health, they will be able to reap the benefits of increasing life expectancy and quality of life.
The opportunities to improve not only perceptions but also health care are great. This shift in perspective may take time and require unprecedented collaboration with a wider range of stakeholders committed to better understanding every dimension of health. and the connections between them, but above all to take on the challenges that stand in the way of a holistic vision of it.
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