The historical origins of the basic concepts of health promotion and education: the role of ancient Greek philosophy and medicine

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Abstract

Although it is commonly accepted that the basic concepts of ‘Health Promotion’ have been developed in the last two decades, they have their roots in ancient civilizations and in particular in Greek antiquity. As evident from medical and philosophical documents of the sixth to fourth centuries B.C., the ancient Greeks were the first to break with the supernatural conceptions of health and disease that had so far dominated human societies. The ancient Greeks developed the physiocratic school of thought, realizing that maintaining good health and fighting illness depend on natural causes and that health and disease cannot be dissociated from particular physical and social environments nor from human behavior. In this context, they defined health as a state of dynamic equilibrium between the internal and the external environment, they took under consideration the physical and social determinants of health, they empowered individuals and communities through new democratic and participatory institutions, they gave emphasis in health education and skill development, they recognized the importance of supportive environments and of healthy public policy and they re-oriented medicine toward a more naturalistic and humanistic perspective. The aim of the present study is to highlight such core concepts from these early times that helped establishing the foundations for health promotion and education in the modern era according to the Ottawa Charter.

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