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Moves to measure wellbeing must support a social model of health

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 16 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7323
  1. Sarah Atkinson, associate director, Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University DH1 3LN
  1. s.j.atkinson{at}

The Office for National Statistics recently announced the start of further consultation on how to assess the United Kingdom’s progress by more than just its economic performance. This followed the decision by the present UK government to incorporate measures of general wellbeing, including subjective wellbeing, into future National Household Surveys ( The decision recognises the argument that concrete policy goals, such as economic growth and material prosperity, are only the means to human flourishing rather than ends in themselves. The announcement will be well received in many progressive policy circles. The think tank the New Economics Foundation has long advocated a less materially oriented evaluation of whether a country is doing well, including people’s views of their own wellbeing. Similarly, public health professionals committed to a social model of health, with its emphasis on prevention, promotion, and intersectoral partnership, are likely to welcome the inclusion of subjective wellbeing as an important arbiter of policy.

But before the celebrations commence, consider if this might have negative consequences for a social model of health. The move to wellbeing echoes similar initiatives in France and Canada, but the …

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