Over the past thirty years, we’ve been part of a movement to shift the primary approach to health from one that focuses on disease to a more complete, “whole person” approach. This “integrative health” approach considers the many, complex reasons why people and communities either suffer or thrive, and it has seen tremendous growth.
Today, our focus has grown even broader.
In 2021, we renamed the “Institute for Integrative Health” the Nova Institute for Health — of People, Places, and Planet because we are building on “person health” and looking at the context of peoples’ lives and communities as well as the health of the planet we all share.
To find solutions to the significant threats facing people, places, and the planet today, we must acknowledge the connections among them. That’s why we look at the whole picture, the entire lived experience that influences health. This approach includes and builds upon some key concepts:
In 2016, Nova Institute leadership, scholars, and fellows developed a new definition of integrative health in collaboration with a number of health professionals and other health organizations, including the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine:
Integrative health is a state of well-being in body, mind, and spirit that reflects aspects of the individual, community, and population. It is affected by 1) individual biological factors and behaviors, social values, and public policy; 2) the physical, social, and economic environment; and 3) an integrative health care system that involves the active participation of the individual on the health care team applying a broad spectrum of preventive and therapeutic approaches. Integrative health encourages individuals, social groups, and communities to develop ways of living that promote meaning, resilience, and well-being across the life course.
Medical care has just a 10 percent impact on a person’s health and wellness compared to other factors, so when we look at individual health, we must recognize those other factors. The concept of the “human exposome” takes into account the many external factors that interact with our individual genetic make-up and influence a person’s health from conception through the end of life, such as diet, pollution, education, economics, public policy, access to nature, and much more.
When we talk about the health of places, we are talking about the health of the communities where people live. Systemic racism, economic injustice, scarce resources, food deserts, and misinformation are just some examples of the “upstream factors” of health that society, and the medical community, has ignored for far too long.
The health of our planet and the health of people and our communities are all connected. But not enough people have access to healthy air and clean water or green spaces, and we see the devastating effects of the very real climate crisis all around us. We’re focusing on the links between personal health, public health and planetary health so we can find solutions and achieve our vision of a world where people enjoy meaningful and fulfilling lives—no matter where on Earth they live, work, or play.
Through all of our work, we advocate moving beyond a singular focus on disease to a more comprehensive framework that addresses the total lived experience and the components that lead to flourishing—which we define as “the vitality and fullest potential of individuals, communities, and life on the planet as a whole.”
- Witt, Claudia et.al.: “Defining Health in a Comprehensive Context: A New Definition of Integrative Health”
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) Fact Sheet: Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What’s In a Name?
- Cochrane Complementary Medicine’s Complementary, Alternative and Integrative Medicine (CAM) glossary of terms