Health Promotion Glossary of Terms 2021


This glossary was published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021. The initial edition of the glossary was published in 1986 and aimed to “help clarify the meaning and relationship between many [health-related] terms that were not commonly used.” It also formed a part of the groundwork for the first WHO International Conference on Health Promotion which was conducted in Ottawa, Canada, in 1986.

The 2021 edition of the glossary differs from the earlier versions through omission of certain terms as well as modification and addition of terms to accommodate evolving concepts and changing experiences. The document supplements concise definitions of the terms with short explanatory notes. In most cases, they are sourced from freely accessible WHO documents.

The glossary is divided into two sections. The first section comprises of 12 ‘core terms’ that are especially crucial in discussions of health promotion. The next section titled ‘health promotion glossary’ contains an extended list of 47 terms which are widely used in relation to health promotion.

The following are a few of the over 50 terms and their (excerpted) definitions as they appear in the glossary:

Health: A state of complete physical, social, and mental well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Burden of disease: The burden of disease is a measurement of the gap between a population’s current health and the optimal state where all people attain full life expectancy without suffering major ill-health.

Commercial determinants of health: Activities of the private sector – including strategies and approaches used to promote products and choices – that affect the health of populations.

Environmental determinants of health: The physical conditions in which people live and work that have an impact on health.

Global health: Achieving health equity at a global level by addressing transnational health issues, determinants, and the interventions and formal structures that are beyond the control of national institutions.

Health advocacy: A combination of individual and social actions designed to gain political commitment, policy support, social acceptance and systems support for a particular health goal or program.

Health education: Health education is any combination of learning experiences designed to help individuals and communities improve their health by increasing knowledge, influencing motivation and improving health literacy.

Health equity: Health equity is the absence of unfair, avoidable, or remediable differences in health status among population groups defined socially, economically, demographically, or geographically.

Health impact assessment: Health impact assessment is a combination of procedures, methods and tools by which a policy, programme, product or service may be judged concerning its effects on the health of the population and the distribution of those effects within the population.

Healthy life expectancy: Healthy life expectancy is a population-based measure of the proportion of expected life span estimated to be healthful and fulfilling, or free of illness, disease and disability according to social norms and perceptions and professional standards.

Risk factor: Social, economic or biological status, behaviours or environments which are associated with or cause increased susceptibility to a specific disease, ill health, or injury.

Social determinants of health: The social determinants of health are the social, cultural, political, economic and environmental conditions in which people are born, grow up, live, work and age, and their access to power, decision-making, money and resources that give rise to these conditions of daily life.

Universal health coverage: Universal health coverage means that all people have access to the health services they need, at high quality, when and where they need them, without financial hardship across the life course. It includes the full range of essential health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care.

Focus by Meera Keshav.

PARI Library’s health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


World Health Organization, Geneva


World Health Organization, Geneva