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Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health

Together for more healthy years


Method Concepts & Cultures of Health

Health & humanities

‘Health’ is a relative term. It is rooted in cultural, historical, philosophical, religious and societal practices and ideas. For this reason, the success of health interventions depends on a thorough understanding of these decidedly non-medical factors. The current emphasis on lifestyle medicine offers a case in point. Historical research has shown that from the Ancient Greeks the Hippocratic non-naturals (the environmental factors outside the body) clean air, food, exercise, sleep, detox and emotional balance, have always been co-defined by culture.

Bottom-up approaches

In addition to adopting the humanities as a methodological angle through which we can deal with health issues, we also emphasise the importance of bottom-up approaches rooted in ethnographic research. For instance, the capability approach focuses on the choices that people have to transform the opportunities that underlie their health and wellbeing into valued outcomes. In addition, it sheds light on what enables or hinders this translation. Such an approach will benefit from a "people's perspective" and will help to address issues of inequality and inequity. This is important because traditional health programmes often fail in reaching the most vulnerable groups in society. This approach will go beyond non-medical factors that lead to wellbeing, and call for multi-sectoral interventions.

Last modified:23 July 2019 10.55 a.m.
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