Definition of Health

UBC Health facilitates collaborations across all disciplines at UBC’s two campuses to maximize the quality of and innovation in health education and research and their impact on policy and systems. The ultimate goal is to improve the health of individuals and communities—locally, nationally, and globally.  

A relevant question is: what do we mean by “health”? While we all have an intuitive reaction to this question, there is a broad range of ideas—from health being defined as the absence of disease to health being a fundamental right. 

We recognized the importance of providing clarity around our working definition of health and conducted a review of definitions of health. Sources included the World Health Organization, Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The review demonstrated the importance of a definition of health that both is measurable and speaks to values and aspirations. It also had to extend the idea of “absence of disease” to include capabilities and resources that are central to living our lives.

Informed by the review, we worked with our partners to develop the following definition of health: 

Health is an attribute of individuals, communities, and societies and is a fundamental resource for daily living. 

Health is shaped by a wide range of determinants, from individual genetics and risk factors (such as diet and physical inactivity) to social and environmental exposures (such as early childhood experiences), education, work, and—fundamentally—social and economic position. 

Health can be measured in many ways, for example, based on the presence or absence of disease, or through more qualitative understanding of personal or community assets and capabilities. Threats to health and inequities in health can be addressed through: thoughtful public policy; supportive environments that encourage community action and individual skills; and strong healthcare systems that include prevention.  

This definition of health resonates with the work that UBC Health is doing and provides context for future priorities.