Health is the result of a large number of different factors: heredity and genetics, the social and physical environment, health policies, the care and cure sector, and the behaviour of individuals. Individual behaviour, in turn, is the product of personal preferences but of the same environmental factors as well. Health promotion refers to the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. It moves beyond a focus on individual behaviour towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions. A so-called ecological perspective is adopted, in which determinants of health and of health behaviour at different levels are considered.
Therefore, health promotion is multidisciplinary by nature. It is aimed at understanding social and health-related problems (epidemiology; biomedical sciences), at understanding behaviour (social and health psychology) and at influencing behaviour through educational means (communication studies; education studies; social psychology). But importantly we also need to understand and change social and political structures (sociology; policy studies).
WHO developed a logo for its first global conference on health promotion that illustrates the different aspects and shows that health promotion goes beyond health education or social marketing as individually oriented strategies (which of course should not be forgotten).
Within health promotion, we adopt a scientific approach: we study determinants and change strategies, and put research, evidence and theories into practice. The general principles of, and strategies for, health promotion can be applied to a variety of population groups, risk factors, diseases, and in various settings. Health promotion, and the associated efforts put into education, community development, policy, legislation and regulation, are equally valid for prevention of communicable diseases, injury and violence, and mental problems, as they are for prevention of noncommunicable diseases, the promotion of self-management among the chronically ill, the reduction of socio-economic health differences or the prevention of HIV/AIDS in developing countries. Important settings for health promotion are the school, the workplace, the community and the cure and care sectors (e.g. hospitals, family practices).