What is health?

Last updated: 11 11 2021

Image Boken om Sverige
This material is from the book About Sweden.

Being healthy means that you are well and feel good. Your health is affected by aspects of your lifestyle such as what you eat, stress, sleep, smoking, alcohol and drugs. Your health is also affected by how you feel about yourself, the people you have around you and whether you think your live is meaningful.

The society in which you live also has a major influence on your health, for example your housing, your job and whether you feel part of society.

Determinants of health, taken freely from Dahlgren & Whitehead

Public health

Public health is about the health of everyone in the country. The right to good health is a human right. The state is obliged to work to ensure that everyone in society receives, for example, the care they need. In Sweden, the Government and various authorities work to ensure people will feel good.

The Public Health Agency of Sweden is a central government authority that has a nationwide responsibility for issues concerning health. It works to ensure that everyone in Sweden will be healthy. The Public Health Agency of Sweden specifically focuses on eleven different areas. These are:

  • participation and influence in society,
  • economic and social conditions,
  • the conditions under which children and young people grow up,
  • occupational health,
  • environments and products,
  • health promotion,
  • protection against the spread of disease,
  • sexuality and reproductive health,
  • physical activity,
  • eating habits and foodstuffs, and
  • alcohol, narcotics, doping, tobacco and gambling.

In spite of Swedish authorities' efforts to improve public health, there are differences in terms of health between different groups in society. People with limited education and a low income often have poorer health than those with a higher education and a larger income.

Three generations Photo: Colourbox

Good eating habits

What you eat and drink has a major impact on your health and how you feel. Eating well and being active can reduce the risk of many diseases, for example cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and psychiatric problems.

The body needs various substances. In order to get all the substances the body needs, it is important to eat a varied diet. If you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at set times, it is easier to eat just the right amount.

Photo: Colourbox

Tips about healthy food

The National Food Agency is a government agency responsible for matters relating to food. The National Food Agency gives the general public advice on healthy food. Among its tips:

  • Eat a lot of fruit, vegetables and berries. Root vegetables, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, beans and onion are particularly good. There are considerable health gains in eating a lot of vegetables, fruit, legumes and other food from the plant kingdom.
  • Choose wholegrain products when you eat things like bread, cereal, grains, pasta and rice.
  • Eat fish and shellfish two to three times a week. Alternate between oily and less oily kinds and choose eco-labelled sources.
  • Use healthy oils for cooking, such as rapeseed oil or liquid margarines made from rapeseed oil and healthy sandwich spreads.

The keyhole

Some products in supermarkets are labelled with a keyhole symbol. This symbol indicates that the food is nutritious and has less fat, sugar and salt. It also contains more fibre than similar foods without the keyhole label. Products with the keyhole label are recommended by the National Food Agency.

Tips for adults

Many adults would feel better if they ate less saturated fat. Saturated fat is found in food that comes from animals. For example, it is in whole milk, sour milk, butter, fatty meat products, cream, ice cream and chocolate. Saturated fat can also be found in certain plant oils such as coconut oil and palm oil. Saturated fat can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Unsaturated fat is good for the body. It can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Unsaturated fat can be found in the majority of vegetable oils, soft and liquid cooking fats, fish, nuts and almonds.

Fruit and vegetable contain many of the substances the body needs such as vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. Vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, beans and cabbage contain fibre. It is good to eat fruit and vegetables every day.

Fish and shellfish contain many vitamins and minerals. Fish also contains a fat called omega 3. This is good for the heart, blood pressure and blood.

If you want to maintain a healthy weight, you should not eat a lot of food containing sugar and fat. This means you should avoid drinking a lot of soft drinks and eating e.g. sweets, crisps, cakes and chocolate.

Tips for children

Children need to eat nutritious food at set times. They are then able to grow and develop in the right way.

Breast milk or breast milk substitutes are the best food for infants. You can get more information about what food is good for children at your child healthcare centre.

Exercise and training

People need to be active if they are to feel good. Training reduces the risk of many diseases, for example cardiovascular diseases and some types of cancer. Training also makes you happier. You sleep better, can deal with stress better and maintain your weight. Adults need to be active for at least 30 minutes every day. You do not need to train hard to feel better. Taking a walk is good enough.

Children need to be active more than adults. Children need to be active for at least 60 minutes every day in order to feel good.


Many people feel stressed. This isn't necessarily dangerous. Stress provides additional power to deal with tricky situations. However, a lot of stress can be harmful to health. If you feel stressed, it is good to understand why. Then you can try to change your situation.

One sign of stress is that you are sleeping badly and feel sad. You may also have difficulty concentrating, a poor memory and problems with your stomach, headaches or pain in other parts of your body.

If you are active, eat good food and sleep enough, this helps your body to cope with stress.


It is important to sleep well if you are to feel good. An adults normally needs to sleep for between six and nine hours per day. Children and young people need more sleep.

Sleeping problems are common. They can be due to various things, for example tobacco, alcohol, snoring, disease, worry and stress or that you are eating too late at night.

You may be able to help yourself better sleep if the room you sleep in is dark, quiet and cool. It can also be easier to sleep well if you avoid eating immediately before going to bed. If you go to bed and get up about the same time each day, this can also make it easier to get a good sleep.

If your sleep problems continue for a long time, it may be a good idea to seek medical help.

Sexual and reproductive health

Sexual health means that you feel well physically, emotionally, mentally and socially in relation to your sexuality. This involves the right to make decisions about your own body and sexuality without being subjected to violence, coercion or discrimination. Reproductive health involves the information, care and service that everyone is entitled to in order to make plans for having children. This means receiving good care in childbirth, having access to contraceptives and being able to have an abortion safely. All people have the right to if and when they want to have children.