Health and Illness
Jake M. Najman
The study of health and illness encompasses the study of almost every aspect of human existence.The health consequences of the interaction of the individual with his or her society is the context within which health sociologists do their work. Gender, age, socioeconomic status, family, race and place (physical location) are some of the major socio-structural determinants of health. How and why these socio-structural determinants impact on health is the first of the issues we address. Second, we examine inequalities in health and health outcomes within Australian society. Because social groups occupy different locations in time and place, their health will differ. Documenting the magnitude of these differences and the reasons for them is our second task. Finally, we consider the prospects for developing social policies and programs to improve population health.There are three issues to which we must attend if we are to understand and contribute to improving population health.
If health is a consequence of particular socio-structural determinants, then understanding how we might modify the social, political and economic contexts within which people live provides one focus for improving population health. Health care services also differ by time and place. To a greater or lesser extent, health services can impact on population health. Understanding how Australia's health services operate, their strengths and weaknesses, constitutes a second approach to improving population health. Here the primary concern is with the mix of available services and whether current patterns of service provision in Australia constitute an appropriate mixture of services. A third consideration is with emerging threats to the health of the population. These threats are as diverse as the rapidly escalating costs of providing some health care services, changing patterns of health care needs, and the emergence of new diseases and their likely impact on the health of the populations. Can we plan for a population that is experiencing rapid social change, and where our understanding of the future is limited and evolving?
What constitutes health is itself a matter of definition and sometimes of dispute.At one extreme, death and disability constitute indicators of poor health about which we can