Suboptimal health

Contributors to Suboptimal Health

In 1946, The World Health Organization (WHO) defined health as the ‘state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’.

This definition, however, opens the possibility of a third state, one that exists between full health and the moment someone is diagnosed with an illness or disease. Indeed, over the years since 1946, the number of people suffering from health problems and feeling unwell but who are not diagnosed with a medical condition has grown sharply.

Today, this is referred to as suboptimal health. It’s a middle ground where an individual may have common issues such as fatigue, poor digestion or anxiety but there seems to be no underlying medical cause, at least one not yet diagnosed.

Here we look at a suboptimal optimal health definition and what common symptoms are associated with this state of wellbeing.

Poor health status

What is Suboptimal Health?

Since the original definition of health by WHO, our lifestyles have undoubtedly changed, in some ways for the better, in others for the worse.

Many more of us are living in urban, highly populated environments. Issues such as stressful work and home lives and poor air quality have had an impact. Over the years there have been increasing incidents of people reporting poor health without any diagnosable condition.

This led to the notion of suboptimal health status (SHS) that lies between good health and a diagnosis of a chronic disease such as cancer or diabetes. Individuals with this status of health may report symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness or non-specific pain that impacts their quality of life. It’s far more widespread than many of us realize.

  • A study in 1998 looked at a group of 6,000 asymptomatic healthy people and found that more than 72% fell within the range of what is now considered suboptimal health.
  • Research has been carried out with groups including teaching and business professionals as well as students and discovered a high incidence of suboptimal health status.

Research suggests that suboptimal health is strongly influenced by lifestyle behaviors.

Common Symptoms Associated with Suboptimal Health

There are several common symptoms associated with a state of suboptimal health. These include low energy levels, being prone to or adversely affected by stress, having headaches, dizziness, chronic fatigue, anxiety and depression.

Some people may have a greater likelihood of suffering from hair and skin problems, including thinning hair and dry or blotchy skin. Others exhibit a slow metabolism, poor sleep or the inability to focus properly.

There are also related functional system disorders that can include problems with the digestive system as well as cardiovascular and urinary issues. There is often non-specific pain (back or chest pain) associated with a suboptimal health status.

All of these symptoms can have an impact on the individual’s sense of wellbeing but they may not be part of a diagnosable condition that can be treated. In many circumstances, those with suboptimal health will exhibit more than one symptom.

What Causes Suboptimal Health?

In many studies relating to suboptimal health, lifestyle has been identified as an important mitigating factor. Most of us understand that how healthily we live our lives makes a big difference to our sense of wellbeing.

A study of more than 11,000 university students in China looked at lifestyle factors in relation to health and wellbeing. Poor lifestyle choices such as going to bed too late and not getting enough sleep, poor diet choices, lack of exercise and stress caused by studying all had an impact.

The study found that students who complained of common suboptimal health status tended to make poor lifestyle choices compared to those who were relatively healthy.

  • A better diet and more exercise promoted better physiological wellbeing.
  • Managing stress more effectively and allowing spiritual growth had a significant impact on psychological health.

The study also found a gender difference when it came to healthy lifestyle choices. Women, for example, are prone to stress, anxiety and depression while men are more likely to make poor nutrition choices.

With more people complaining of suboptimal health in recent years, it’s important to look at lifestyle factors closely.

This not only includes eating healthier food and exercising regularly, but also having a spiritual foundation, paying attention to mental health and taking an active role in improving overall wellbeing.

There is still more to learn about the impact of lifestyle on health but better education and understanding can certainly make a huge difference. A recent study of 48,978 respondents found that more than 69% of them confessed to one or more suboptimal health status symptoms.

This suggests that the prevalence of suboptimal health is on the increase, driven by things such as more stressful situations and poor lifestyle choices.