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Health: A Major Social Issue Essay

1848 words - 7 pages

Health is something that many would not associate as being a social issue, yet many sociologists have argued that it is a major social issue. They argue that the way we experience and understand health is dependent upon society. In 1946, the World Health Organisation (WHO) defined health as, “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being” (WHO, 2003). This definition is very holistic in the sense that it encompasses all aspects of a person’s life. It is also very idealistic and unattainable for most people. Health can also be seen as, “the absence of illness”, which alternatively is a more traditional view, that views disease and illness as a deviation from the bodies norms (Blaxter, 2010, p5). There is no definition of health that is subscribed to by everyone, and how people understand it is shaped by society. Although health is experienced in the body, we relate to it through social institutions such as medicine and our status in society can have a profound effect on our chances of being healthy. Through looking at the different ways health relates to society, I will attempt to show how health is a social issue as well as a biological one.
When the NHS was introduced in 1948, officials thought that after treating the backlog of unhealthy people the demand for healthcare would decline, as everyone would become healthier (Moore, 2008, p281). This was however a mistaken assumption and instead demand for healthcare rose. This was because standards of health changed with better healthcare, so people constructed a new idea of what “healthy” was. This shows that people view health relative to the people around them and that health is not fixed, but is instead subject to society. Dubos noted in his book, “Mirage of Health”, that the skin disease, yaws, was so prevalent among people in sub-Saran Africa in the early 20th century, that it was considered normal(1959). How people perceive health therefore depends on the society they are part of and as society changes so to can perceptions and experiences of health. How you view health can also depend on your age and gender. The way we are socialised into playing certain roles or acting in certain ways depending on our age or sex can affect how we perceive and experience health. Younger males generally emphasise health as physical strength, while older women in terms of vitality and social relations (Blaxter, 1990, p30). How we view ourselves and how we fit into society can affect how we view health. In the example of young males, the media has created the image of what males should look like, so in attempting to emulate this they are conforming to societal norms. In other words, society through the media is shaping our views of what a “healthy” body is and what it is not, and that the image we are presented with depends on social factors such as age and gender.
The argument that being healthy is a social norm then leads to the view that illness and disease are therefore deviant. Parsons was...

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