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Int J Epidemiol. 1994 Dec;23(6):1273-81.

The determinants of excellent health: different from the determinants of ill-health?

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Department of Public Health, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands.



In the famous definition of the World Health Organization, health is 'a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity'. Until now, the distribution and determinants of the positive end of the health spectrum have not been studied extensively. In an exploratory analysis, we have compared the determinants of excellent health and of ill-health using data from a postal survey among 18,973 people in a region in the southeastern Netherlands.


Excellent health was defined as the presence of a very good self-assessment of health in the absence of any self-reported chronic condition or health complaint, and was present in 8.2% of the survey population. Ill-health was defined as the presence of two or more self-reported chronic conditions, four or more health complaints and a less-than-good self-assessment of health, and was present in 10.5% of the survey population. The remainder of the survey population was used as a reference group. Two sets of explanatory variables were available: a set of seven socio-demographic variables and a set of nine specific risk factors. Logistic regression analysis was used to assess the strengths and patterns of the associations between the determinants and the two outcome variables, excellent health and ill-health, controlling for age and gender.


Both the socio-demographic variables and the specific risk factors had largely similar (but mirrored) patterns of association with excellent health and with ill-health. Important socio-demographic determinants of excellent health (and of ill-health) were education, employment status and urbanization (as well as age and gender). Important specific risk factors were leisure exercise, housing problems, smoking, negative life events, obesity and alcohol intake. The percentage of deviance accounted for by each of these sets of determinants was two to three times as large in the case of ill-health as in the case of excellent health.


The processes by which excellent health is generated probably have much in common with those which generate ill-health. At the same time it is obvious that our understanding of the determinants of ill-health is better than that of the determinants of excellent health, and further study of the latter is recommended.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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