Intended for healthcare professionals


How should health be defined?

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 10 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2900
  1. Alejandro R Jadad, professor ,
  2. Laura O’Grady, postdoctoral fellow
  1. 1Centre for Global eHealth Innovation; Department of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation; Dalla Lana School of Public Health; Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto; and University Health Network, Toronto, Canada M5G 2C4
  1. ajadad{at}

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    On 7 April 1948, the member states of the United Nations ratified the creation of the World Health Organization. It was set up with the fundamental objective of “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.” This lofty goal was coupled with an equally ambitious opening statement that defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”1

    This definition invited nations to expand the conceptual framework of their health systems beyond the traditional boundaries set by the physical condition of individuals and their diseases, and it forced us to pay attention to what we now call social determinants of health. Consequently, WHO challenged political, academic, community, and professional organisations devoted to …

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