Of what use (or harm) is a positive health definition?



The terminology used in the professional health care and in health science is partly unclear. One reason lies in the integration of aspects like well-being, functionality, or life-quality in the term health. This text aims to provide a convincing theoretical line of argument to define health more clearly.

Subject and methods

The term “health” is analysed by means of the sociological systems theory, which is also a constructivist distinction theory. In this context, Antonovsky’s ‘health ease/dis-ease continuum’ is being modified to a ‘health/health-impairment continuum’ in order to comprise not only physical disease and mental disorders but also injuries.


There are countless physical diseases, mental disorders, and other health impairments with clearly defined symptoms. On the other hand, aspects like well-being, other positive emotions, a good life-quality, or a high functionality may be important protection factors or a consequence of good health. As positive health symptoms, they blur the health definition and foster the tendency to indicate negative emotions as mental disorders to be treated by means of psychotherapy and medication.


There are theoretical and ethical reasons to define health merely as the absence of disease and other health impairments.

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Correspondence to M. Hafen.

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Martin Hafen declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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Hafen, M. Of what use (or harm) is a positive health definition?. J Public Health 24, 437–441 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10389-016-0741-8

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  • Health
  • Disease
  • Health definition
  • Positive health
  • Systems theory
  • Health impairment