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Models of Health

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“There are numerous models and explanations that highlight biological as well as social and psychological processes.”(Aggleton, 1990) Health, illness and disease are defined conflictingly depending on different factors and models. Models of health vary but every model plays a defining role in signifying and conceptualizing what should or shouldn’t be the object of public health concerns. The purpose of these models is to explain why inequalities in health not only exist but also persist; there is an emphasis on pathological consequences of behaviour such as poor diets, lack of exercise, smoking and drinking. The different models of health relate to the two main perspectives of health; the biomedical model and the social model. Health is important as it affects everybody in an important way; it’s personal, social and emotional. How health can be defined is how it impacts on the nation and how its resources are allocated. “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. (World Health Organization. 2006) The key components of the social model involve the health of the individual being determined by a broad range of factors; social, environmental, economic as well as biomedical risk factors.

The social model aims to reduce inequalities that relate to age, gender, race, culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and location and is often seen as the preventative approach. In the social model the disability is mainly caused by the barriers that exist within society and our environment and how they affect our everyday health and well-being. The social model looks at discriminating against those with disabilities acting as a barrier, some social backgrounds and socio-economic status, occupation, education, income, poverty, poor housing and environment which can effect pollution and diet, ethnicity can all be taken into consideration when realising that good health is more than the absence of disease. Shakespeare (1998) argued that disability should be seen as a problem created by the attitudes of society and not by the physical state of the body. The social model is considered as the holistic approach and takes into consideration that all aspects of health are interlinked; social, mental, physical as well as some other factors being taken into consideration which is classed as interconnectivity. Dahlgren and Whitehead (1991) discussed different layers on health and described a social ecological theory of health relating to lifestyle choices and lifestyle chances.

They attempted to map the relationship between the individual, their environment and the disease/illness with the individual at the centre of this relationship with the fixed genes, surrounding them are influences on health that can be modified with some health inequalities being attributable to biological variations while others are attributable to external factors outside of the individuals control. Individual lifestyle factors, personal behaviour and lifestyle choice can promote or damage health, an example of this is smoking and drinking and to the extent; individuals can be affected by their peer groups and the norms of their community and social surroundings. Social and community networks which provide mutual support for members in the community networks which provide mutual support for people who may be in unfavourable conditions which could include structural factors; housing, working conditions and the availability/ access to services and provision of facilities.

The biomedical model of health is favoured by many medical professions in particular Drs, they believe that “good health coincides with the absence of disease, illness, symptoms of illness or abnormality” (Kelly, 1996). It is the main system of medical knowledge in western countries as its activity is the treatment and eradication of illness and disease in individuals through diagnosis and effective treatment and defines health narrowly with the key component being that the individual (the patient) indicates a disorder of a part.

The biomedical model of health can also be used to look at morbidity(measures rates of illness) and mortality statistics(measures death rates) rates and the help lower them, while looking at the different rates for example between different social classes. Mortality statistics are a more reliable source than morbidity statistics in terms of accuracy. In the biomedical model of health professionals can be of the opinion that if people listened to positive health messages from health care professionals and considered their lifestyle choices then they would be healthy. This is known as the cultural explanation, a study was done known as The Black Report. The black report offered four explanations of inequalities in health; social selection, arefact, cultural and behavioural and structural and material explanations.

The differences between these two models are that the biomedical model focuses on how to treat the patients through medicine and the machines/ technology the health professionals have access to and not taking into account social and emotional factors. A good example of this is a person was admitted to hospital following an injury; the biomedical model would look at how to get the patient better with the use of medicine and access to technology whereas the social model would take into consideration at how and why the injury was caused. The main difference is that the biomedical model concentrates only on the individual and how to ‘fix’ them whereas the social method does not solely concentrate on the individual but concentrate on the individual but takes the whole picture into consideration.

The media also still may portray holistic treatments and complementary and alternative medicine as, “Quackery and superstition” (Toynbee, 2008), and it is still difficult to be treated holistically on the NHS. So, it is debatable as to how much the social model of health is a challenge to conventional medicine even today.”(MyCourse Preston College, 2012). Health is socially constructed over time and place; an example of this is mental health; this is because it’s socially constructed, its dynamic and ever changing whereas the biomedical model is static. The ultimate difference between the social and biomedical models is that the biomedical model concentrates solely on the individual whereas the social model does not concentrate solely on the individual but takes the whole picture into consideration. Words : 1004


Aggleton, 1990, Health Studies: An introduction. Naidoo and Wills, 2008 Dahlgren and Whitehead, 1992. Policies and Strategies to promote social equity and health. Coppenhagen; World Health Organization Kelly, M. 1996. A code of ethics for Health Promotion. London, Social Affairs Unit World Health Organization. 2006. Constitution of the World Health Organization – Basic Documents, Forty-fifth edition, Supplement, October 2006.

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