Basic Principles of Health Education

Basic Principles of Health Education

In this module, you will learn about the definition of health, health education, and health promotion. This will help you to understand then important components of health.

  •  Physical
  •  Psychological
  •  Social


 Personal Views on Health

Think about your responses to the following questions:

  • What does health mean to you?
  • How important is health to you?
  • What do you do (if anything) to stay healthy?

Definition and Concepts of Health

In the Oxford English Dictionary health is defined as: “the state of being free from sickness, injury, disease, bodily conditions; something indicating good bodily condition.”

Now stop for a minute and think about someone you think is healthy and someone else who you would consider not to be healthy.

    • Look at the definition of health again.
    • Is it similar to the what you thought about for  a healthy or an unhealthy person?

This definition of health is a widely publicized one. But you may have thought of someone who has a disability or wondered about someone who looks OK but who you know does not exercise. Clearly health is not quite as simple as the definition implies.
The concept of health is wide, and the way we define health also depends on individual perception, religious beliefs, cultural values, norms, and social class. Generally, there are two different perspectives concerning people’s own definitions of health: a narrow perspective and a broader perspective.

1. Narrow Perspectives of Health

People with a narrow perspective consider health as the absence of disease, disability, or biological dysfunction. According to this view, to call someone unhealthy or sick means there should be evidence of a particular illness. Social, emotional, and psychological factors are not believed to cause unhealthy conditions. This view is narrow and limits the definition of health to the physical and physiological capabilities that are necessary to perform routine tasks.

According to this definition, the individual is healthy if all the body parts, cells, tissues, and organ systems are functioning well, and there is no apparent dysfunction of the body. Using this view, people view the human body in the same say as a computer or mechanical device. When something is wrong, the object is taken to experts who will maintain it. Hence, physicians often focus on treatment and clinical interventions with medication rather than health education to bring about behavior change.

Serena’s Story

  • About two months ago Serena lost her six month old twins. She is grief stricken. She has always been slender, but now she looks very thin. She cannot sleep; she cannot eat, and she doesn’t want to talk to anyone.
  • Do you think the view of health you have just read about applies to Serena?

This view of health ignores many of the social and psychological causes of ill health. Serena’s grief is not an illness, but it is certainly affecting her health.

2. Broader Perspectives of Health

In the previous section you read about a narrow definition of health. Now this section will help you understand the concept of health in a broader and more holistic way.

The most widely used broader definition of health is that within the constitution of the World Health Organization (1948), which defines health as: “Health is not only the absence of infirmity and disease but also a state of physical mental and social well-being.” This classic definition is important, as it identifies the vital components of health. To more fully understand the meaning of health, it is important to understand each of its individual components.

  • Think back to Serena.
  • Describe her state of health.
  • Serena is mentally distressed. She does not by any means have mental and social well-being.

Physical Health

Physical health, which is one of the components of the definition of health, could be defined as the absence of diseases or disability of the body parts. Physical health could be defined as the ability to perform routine tasks without any physical restriction

To understand physical health, one needs to know what is considered to be physically unhealthy.

The following examples can help to understand someone who is physically unhealthy:

  • A person who has been harmed due to a car accident
  • A farmer infected by malaria and unable to do their farming duties
  • A person infected by tuberculosis and unable to perform his or her tasks.

According to the WHO definition, do you see any of the above unhealthy examples as healthy? Also think about someone in your community who you would consider to be physically disabled.

While both of these people may be restricted in their movement and ability to do routine tasks, they may still be in a state of physical and mental well-being.


Psychological Health

Health is not limited to the biological integrity and the physiological functioning of the human body. Psychological health is also an important aspect of a health definition.

  • Think about people in the community who are showing behavior that may indicate they are going through a period of mental distress in their lives.
  • Or think about Serena again.
  • Do you think that everyone in distress shows the same sorts of symptoms?

Sometimes it can be really difficult to tell if people are struggling with mental health issues, but at other times they may show symptoms that suggest a lack of self-awareness or personal identity, or an inability of rational and logical decision-making. At other times it might be apparent that they are not looking after themselves and are without a proper purpose in their lives. They may be drinking alcohol and have a non-logical response to any request. It may also be noticed that they have an inability to maintain their personal autonomy and are unable to maintain good relationships with people around them.

Social Health

The social component of health is considered to be the ability to make and maintain “acceptable” and “proper” interactions and to communicate with other people within the social environment. This component also includes being able to maintain satisfying interpersonal relationships and being able to fulfill a social role. Having a social role is the ability that people have to maintain their own identity while sharing, cooperating, communicating, and enjoying the company of others. This is really important when participating in friendships and taking a full part in family and community life.

Which of the following examples could be considered to contribute to social health? Explain and discuss your answers.

  1. Mourning when a close family member dies
  2. Going to a football game or involvement in a community meeting
  3. Celebrating traditional cultural events within a community
  4. Shopping in the market
  5. Creating and maintaining friendships

In reality, all these events could have a social component and help towards building people’s social view of health. They all involve interacting with others and gaining support, friendship, and in many instances joy from being with other people.

The World Health Organization said that health promotion is defined as the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. The aim of health promotion is to reduce the underlying causes of ill-health so that there is a long-term reduction in many diseases.


When broadly defined, health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. It contains several different aspects which can include physical and mental health issues often interrelated. According to this definition, physical, social, and psychological factors all contribute to health. Wellness is then expressed through the integration of  the physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, social, and environmental components called the Six Dimensions of Health.