Community-Wide Health Study: Generating snapshots of community health
Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is ‘a condition of full physical, emotional and social well being.’ This definition has been used variously over the years for many different purposes. The word ‘health’ is often used to refer loosely to any condition that leads to a reduction in mortality and to improve the quality of life. The term ‘life quality’ is used to refer to something that is worth living for, and is worth caring for, even if it causes one’s life span to be shortened. It can also mean the quality of life that results from living fully and successfully in a society.
There are four broad classes of health: morbidity, health, disability and pre-morbidity. Health is often seen as a distinct category of itself, on an individual basis, whereas disability and morbidity are seen as forming a core within a system of overall health, and pre-morbidity is seen as forming part of the bigger picture of a person’s health system. There are four important social determinants of health: social structure, hygiene, personal behavior, and genetics.
People form their identity through their relations to the physical world as well as to other people. Health is seen as a key aspect of their internal relation to these others, and this creates a rich network of interrelationships between persons. A person’s level of personal well-being depends on the degree of their internal environment of security, support and care, as well as how they interpret and experience events and situations. Health is influenced by the capacity of each individual to take responsibility for their own health and to control their own bodies, minds and behaviors. This ability is the result of the individual’s ability to manage and satisfy their basic needs, as well as their relationships with other individuals and the community.
Socio-economic factors also affect health and its related behaviors and conditions. The greater number of poor health determinants in any population (e.g., poverty, illiteracy, AIDS) leads to under-ration of good health determinants (i.e., self-esteem, social support, etc.). Poor social determinants influence both individual and population status and influence health in diverse ways. Poor health also directly affects the quality of life of the population as a whole, for example, by contributing to labor force underdevelopment, insufficient food supplies, and lack of access to resources (e.g., health care).
In addition, the health status life expectancy of an individual is also influenced by the presence or absence of diseases or disabilities that impact his ability to participate in society, the quality of his work, social ties, and interactions with other people. The determinants of healthy life-conditions and behaviors have a profound effect on the quality and/or quantity of life-provisioning. This is because health can neither be taken nor given. It is something that a person either has or does not have; it cannot be obtained through any pill, surgery, or medical treatment.
However, by understanding the impact of these determinants on life expectancy, researchers have begun analyzing life expectancy and health at the community, national, and regional levels. This is called community-wide health study and it gives us a fuller picture of health than any single study has ever given. In this study, researchers create a composite index that measures health from different dimensions. For example, a given health condition may be measured using a specific questionnaire that asks about smoking prevalence and the use of tobacco and alcohol. These two dimensions together represent the total health of the population and are then ranked using frequency distributions. This ranking enables researchers to create a snapshot of the general state of health at a local level and this allows them to create maps of community health that show the locations of clusters of diseases or disability.