Since the late 1970s, the federal Healthy People Initiative has been a visible component of the United States’ approach to improving population health. In each decade, a new version of Healthy People is issued, featuring updated goals and identifying topic areas and quantifiable objectives for health improvement during the succeeding ten years, with assessment at that point of progress or lack thereof. Progress has been limited to many objectives, leading to concerns about the effectiveness of Healthy People in shaping outcomes in the context of a decentralized and uncoordinated US health system. Healthy People 2020 gives more prominence to health promotion and preventive approaches and adds a substantive focus on the importance of addressing social determinants of health. A new expanded digital interface facilitates use and dissemination rather than bulky printed books as produced in the past. The impact of these changes to Healthy People will be determined in the coming years.
Usage Note: Some people insist on maintaining a distinction between the words healthy and healthful. In this view, healthful means "conducive to good health" and is applied to things that promote health, while healthy means "possessing good health," and is applied solely to people and other organisms. Accordingly, healthy people have healthful habits. However, healthy has been used to mean "healthful" since the 1500s, as in this example from John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education: "Gardening ... and working in wood, are fit and healthy recreations for a man of study or business." In fact, the word healthy is far more common than healthful when modifying words like diet, exercise, and foods, and healthy may strike many readers as more natural in many contexts. Certainly, both healthy and healthful must be considered standard in describing that which promotes health.
A recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers examining the drivers of rising health care costs in the U.S. pointed to increased utilization created by increased consumer demand, new treatments, and more intensive diagnostic testing, as the most significant. However, Wendell Potter, a long-time PR representative for the health insurance industry, has noted that the group which sponsored this study, AHIP, is a front-group funded by various insurance companies. People in developed countries are living longer. The population of those countries is aging, and a larger group of senior citizens requires more intensive medical care than a young, healthier population. Advances in medicine and medical technology can also increase the cost of medical treatment. Lifestyle-related factors can increase utilization and therefore insurance prices, such as: increases in obesity caused by insufficient exercise and unhealthy food choices; excessive alcohol use, smoking, and use of street drugs. Other factors noted by the PWC study included the movement to broader-access plans, higher-priced technologies, and cost-shifting from Medicaid and the uninsured to private payers.
Health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." This definition has been subject to controversy, as it may have limited value for implementation. Health may be defined as the ability to adapt and manage physical, mental and social challenges throughout life.