The Definition Of “Healthy” (from a GP’s Perspective)


Everyone wants to be “healthy.” What is the definition of healthy though – is there a clothing size? A specific weight we should aim for? Is there a magic supplement or vitamin that automatically makes us healthy? The answer is no – determining health is so much harder than just looking at a person, their clothing size or their weight.


Last year at the Australian Fashion Week there was uproar when a particular model took to the catwalk – the comments and tweets came thick and fast – “Oh she is so unhealthy.” The very people who were labeling her “unhealthy” and hence, determining what the definition of “health” was were not part of the health profession and the same people who place pictures of size 6 women with thigh gaps and 6 packs in our faces. See the problem?


You are likely not healthy if you are too thin or if you are overweight or obese. So let’s clear this up.


A male or female who walks in my consultation room with a very low body mass index (BMI) is equally as concerning to me as a patient who is obese. Being seriously underweight (through restriction of food, purging, not eating at all or excessive exercise) can lead to issues with fertility (women for instance, will not have regular periods), nutritional deficiencies (like iron) and osteoporosis (where the bones become brittle).


You can be seriously underweight and have a cholesterol of 8, which is very high and not healthy. By the same token neither is being overweight or obese – it carries risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and high risk of certain cancers.


Health to me is the general “vibe” of an individual – yes, I’m talking The Castle and Mabo type of “vibe.” What’s your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, height, body mass index? What do you eat – and do you eat a bit of everything in moderation? Do you exercise – how much and how often? Do you smoke? (Please say no!) Do you drink alcohol – and if so how much? And what’s your mood like – do you think you could be depressed or anxious? That’s the stuff I want to know to gauge whether or not you’re healthy. And here’s a hot tip mental health is just as vital as the body stuff.


I am not looking at your six pack or bicep size. And I certainly won’t think you’re any healthier for purposely cutting out foods groups like dairy and meat for no particular medical reason.


There really is no concrete measure for “health” or “healthiness.” But as GPs we make those assessments every day. So am I healthy? I do something active every day, I eat fruit, vegetables, protein, carbohydrates and drink plenty of water. I love my wine and on occasion will have more than the 2 standard drinks I should but, hey I’m human!


I guess you need to ask yourself the same questions. Are you doing everything you can to reduce your risk of chronic diseases like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol? Are you active? Do you make an effort with your diet – do you eat enough? Or too much?


So finally, yes I think my vibe is somewhat “healthy” – is yours?