Social Indicators Research

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 181–192 | Cite as

The World Health Organization's definition of health: Social versus spiritual health

  • James S. Larson


The World Health Organization formulated its definition of health following World War II, during a period when the social health of societies was in question. Since that definition in 1946, social scientists have dutifully followed its precepts and attempted to operationalize its concepts, including social well-being. But, American social scientists have found that psychosocial well-being may be a more accurate formulation of mental and social well-being, and they have questioned the reasonableness of a definition that requires complete health. It is proposed that scholars refine the WHO definition over the next several years, while at the same time creating bridges between a new conceptual definition and more detailed operational definitions. An expansion of the WHO definition may be necessary to include a spiritual dimension of health if social scientists can agree that spirituality is part of health and not merely an influence.


World Health Organization Social Scientist Operational Definition Social Health Complete Health 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • James S. Larson
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of GovernmentUniversity of ArkansasLittle RockUSA

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