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Foundation Operations: Board Issues-> Mission Language

How should my foundation define health?

Health foundations differ in how they define health for the purposes of their grantmaking. Some focus primarily on the delivery of clinical services. Others conceptualize health more broadly and focus their work on other determinants of health such as risky behaviors, violence, and the availability of economic and social resources in the community. It is worth spending some serious time with your board on this decision.

There is no one right answer. The definition you choose will shape both your grantmaking portfolio and expectations about how your organization will make an impact. There are several resources you may want to consult in considering how to define health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

Some health grantmakers have relied on a seminal 1993 article by Michael McGinnis and William Foege in the Journal of the American Medical Association in helping support use of a broader definition of health (see citation below). This article describes the impact of behavioral and social determinants on the health status of Americans. While older issues of JAMA are not available online, most medical libraries maintain archives.

Healthy People 2010, the federal government's goals for the nation, is another useful source for determining how your foundation defines health. Many states have adapted the Healthy People goals at the state level. These state plans can be accessed from the main Healthy People Web site.

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