The definition of health

In August 0f 2022, the committee of (what was then) the Hawke’s Bay Medical Research Foundation decided it was time for change. The foundation, established in 1961, had always been looking to fund health research projects with the greatest impact for Hawke’s Bay communities. So why did they decide on change, and what did that change look like?


Throughout history, health and the way we define health has been an ever-evolving phenomenon. Strongly marked by the times we lived in and the knowledge available to us at the time, our vision on health has gone from a medically driven, remedial-focussed approach to one where an increasing number of people pay attention to their everyday health & wellbeing through a variety of healthy nutrition, exercise, a balanced social life and relaxation.


Sounds pretty amazing, right? In theory, yes. In practice, things are not always rosy. This level of health awareness has still only penetrated a small group of people globally, and they are often the ones who are in the position (mentally & financially) to address their health as and where they see fit. Unfortunately, a greater majority still struggles to get to terms with health, and how to look after themselves. And even if they have a pretty good understanding of the benefits of better food choices and ample exercise, their confidence and/or their budgets often restrict them to make any significant changes.


The Health Research Foundation – Hawke’s Bay sides with the WHO in its consideration of health: ‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing – not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’


A state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing is potentially within reach if you live in a comfortable, well-insulated home, have enough money to put your leafy greens and fruit on the table and do not have to deal with the soul-crushing financial worries that many deal with on a daily basis. No matter what your own political, religious or social views are, there is no denying that your definition of health, let alone your potential of achieving holistic wellbeing, is greatly influenced by your upbringing, your culture, your education, the community you live, your social status, but also your gender, age and genetics.


While we know so much more about health now than what we knew in 1961, this poses a far more complex landscape to research – because health & wellbeing is like a spectrum, with total mental and physical happiness on one end, and serious physical or mental malfunctioning on the other. We all sit somewhere on this spectrum, and we all have different knowledge and tools available to improve what our individual wellbeing looks like.


The Health Research Foundation – Hawke’s Bay has redefined its name, logo and overall messaging to better reflect what the foundation had been doing behind the scenes for many years: to assess research applications based on their true impact for Hawke’s Bay communities. This research may focus on traditional curative (medical) healthcare or may sit on a different part of the spectrum, trying to find better models or methods to prevent illness of any kind and steering people towards a greater sense of overall wellbeing. As such, the foundation organised a free community event at The Blyth in June this year, offering an opportunity for people to learn about new or different health views and practices, and to engage in an expert panel-discussion on the subject of youth vaping, which continues to pose a serious concern for our communities. Education is a first step to better informed decision-making and empowers individuals to take greater control over their destiny, and the foundation intends to continue to make a positive difference in this area.


With the end of 2023 approaching, we invite you to share your ideas on improving health outcomes in the Bay, or the way we as a foundation should continue to support wellbeing initiatives. Reach out and tell us about your ideas on our Facebook or LinkedIn pages, or email

Author: Laura