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photo: Marijn van Zanten


Prestigious research award for new health concept


Researcher Machteld Huber of the Louis Bolk Institute has received the ZonMw-Parel research award. The award was presented to her at the Dutch national health care conference on 20 September 2012 by professor Pauline Meurs, chair of the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw). Dr  Huber has won this award for her efforts to formulate a new definition of health. In this innovative concept health is no longer viewed as a static condition, but as the dynamic ability of people to adapt and to manage their own well-being.

Current definition medicalises health care

The rationale for Huber’s research is that the World Health Organisation’s present definition of health (‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’) is no longer fit for purpose. The requirement of complete well-being in  this definition, which was formulated in 1948, has unintentionally contributed to the medicalisation of health care . At present 95% of the healthcare budget is spent on medication and intervention. Unfortunately, this often  results in missed opportunities for people to lead a high-quality, meaningful life despite their illness. 

Emphasizing health rather than illness

‘A person with an illness can still have plenty of health left, and experience a good quality of life,’ says Huber. ‘Abilities such as resilience and self-management are lacking in the present definition of health - even though patients consider these abilities very relevant.’ By shifting the emphasis and focusing more on ‘health’ , policy makers and politicians learn to think differently about health care and disease prevention. This is urgently needed if our society wants to maintain high quality care that is also affordable. 

About Dr Huber and the Louis Bolk Institute

Dr Huber started her career as a general practitioner, and for many years worked in medical practice alongside doing research. Since 2011 she has been a member of the Scientific Council for Integral Sustainable Agriculture and Nutrition, which published the report Towards an integral approach to sustainable agriculture and healthy nutrition in early 2012. The scientific publication about the new health concept is expected in 2013. She has worked as a researcher at the Louis Bolk Institute since 1986. The Louis Bolk Institute is an independent international knowledge centre promoting truly  sustainable agriculture, nutrition and health.  Principal clients include the Dutch ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development, provincial governments, water boards, and businesses.

For more information about ZonMw and the award, please visit their website

For more information please contact Lidwien Daniels, communication advisor at the Louis Bolk Institute, (0031) (0)6-10.33.51.78.


Date: 20-09-2012