Disease, Diseases and Conditions, Healthcare Reform, Mass Media, Research Findings , , ,

Are You Healthy?

To understand whether or not your healthy, you have to first understand what it means to be healthy. It seems straightforward, but in the modern age, this is a complex question.

We might at first be inclined to think that being healthy means that you don’t have any illness or injury. But is this always true? What if you have an illness that is managed by medication? What if a person has a disability but the disability doesn’t disrupt their daily life? What if you’ve been diagnosed with pre-hypertension but have no symptoms?

Joseph Dumit, Director of Science and Technology Studies and Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis, discusses various changes to our view of health and illness since the rise of the randomized control trial in his book Drugs for Life: How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health (Duke University Press, 2012). He argues “that being at risk for illness is often treated as if one had a disease requiring lifelong treatments, drugs for life” (6).

Dumit discusses a few prediseases in depth, looking at pre-hypertensive, pre-diabetes, and borderline high cholesterol. “Literally, a disease-sounding syndrome is produced by correlating risk factors and naming it in such a way that it becomes common sense to think about treating ‘it’ as a disease in and of itself” (165). Hence, health becomes a matter of risk where we are all bodies constantly at risk of disease. If you have pre-diabetes, are you healthy? How do we understand our health in a risk economy of health?

This intersects interestingly with Donald A. Barr’s claim, in his book Health Disparities in the United States: Social Class, Race, Ethnicity, & Health, that despite investing so much of our economy in health, US health indexes rank rather low; “[p]erhaps, our basic assumption–that more health care will lead, necessarily, to better health–is flawed.”

  • Laurie Hursting

    This makes me think of the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Approaching these pre conditions as something that needs to be treated as opposed to signaling the need for a shift in lifestyle seems problematic. That, to me, is not actually prevention but management. If sick versus healthy was viewed more on a continuum, and healthy behaviors were emphasized rather than used prescriptively, then perhaps we may begin to shift our views on what constitutes “health.”

  • Andrew Bradford

    Understanding what healthy means and how it relates to our person is definitely becoming difficult to understand. What makes the internet such a beautiful tool has also lead to vague definitions and helped spread incorrect information about what it means to truly be “healthy.” I’m glad you mentioned big Pharma in this article, who has arguably worse for our health over the years. I’d be interested to know how you define “healthy.”