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Patterns of health and disease change over time. What are the reasons behind these changes? Defining terms is always a problem in the social sciences, particularly in the field of health

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Introduction

Patterns of health and disease change over time. What are the reasons behind these changes? Defining terms is always a problem in the social sciences, particularly in the field of health. There is a raft of popular terms concerning health and ill-heath. For instance, people talk about being healthy, fit, poorly, 'one degree under', low, below par, diseased, even 'sick as a parrot'. Amazingly, we often seem to know what we are each talking about! Additionally, health professionals nay use the same terms in a different way from lay people. To try to minimise confusion, I have used the medical view of health common definition as "state of being well, without disease". According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), health is 'a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity'. In this view we are suffering from ill-health when we fall short of 'complete well being'. In comparison, ordinary people do not view health in such absolute terms yet rather in relative terms. Hence, as Dubos and Pines (1980) state "good health may mean different things to an astronaut and to a fashion model, to a lumberjack and to a member of the stock exchange. ...read more.

Middle

'Hunters-gathers lived on meat, fish, fruit and vegetables', and although the proportions of the different foods varied from one population to another, on the average about two thirds of the diet came from plant sources. 'They were not able to have cereals and they had almost no dairy products. Under agriculture man's diet also consisted of cheese, milk and eggs'. (McKeown, 1988, p46-47). Hence the additional food provided by agriculture made it possible for numbers to increase; but the increase was not effectively limited by social restraints (control of fertility and deliberate killing), and populations expanded to the size at which food supplies became again marginal. 3) Modern industrial society The modern industrial phase has been characterised by a decline in mortality from infectious diseases. Especially important has been the decline (though not necessarily the elimination) of former killers such as tuberculosis, measles, scarlet fever and whooping cough. By about the mid-twentieth century, infectious diseases had been overtaken as a cause of death by the types of diseases which are now characteristic of all modern Western societies. The main killers now are cancers, heart disease and strokes. ...read more.

Conclusion

Medicines role in contemporary health has thus been significantly overestimated, by lay people and medics alike. So it is that critics of the medical profession, such as Nick Hart, question it claims. Nevertheless, it has successfully persuaded public and politicians alike that it is the professions high standards and achievements of medical care, (rather than for instance public hygiene) which have ushered in longer, healthier lives, and on which our personal health continues to depend (N. Hart, 1985, p1). Hence, the profession has been able to achieve a largely uncritical acceptance of the view that high-technology hospitals, surgeries and clinics characteristic of modern medicine are essential for a high level of health in a population, critics disagree and they claim that, even now, we remain largely unaware of what value any clinical treatment has because little treatment has ever been carefully evaluated. Because outcomes of treatment in the NHS have not been systematically documented and analysed, the limited data means that we often cannot be cure of which techniques and interventions have been successful and which have not. Thus, we cannot be at all sure of medicine's contribution to the nation's health even today. In comparison, Lupton (1994) argues, western societies in the late twentieth century are characterised by people's increasing disillusionment with scientific medicine. ...read more.

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