We each have various roles in society, and what we do with our roles has profound effects on the autonomy of those around us and their ability to engage socially. Autonomy (a person's ability to have control over their daily life) and engagement with society are not merely nice things to have. These are such fundamental needs that health suffers markedly if they are not fulfilled.
The above is a paraphrase of Michael Marmot's conclusion in his book titled, "The Status Syndrome." This is a powerful, compelling, and well-researched book by a man known world-wide for his research about inequalities in health (Michael Marmot is a professor of epidemiology and public health at University College in London and also serves as an advisor to the WHO).
Jonathan Mann was a world leader in both public health and human rights and is widely regarded as the one who brought the two fields together and best articulated their connections. In the context of AIDS, he one time described the link between public health and rights in this way: "...we have learned that the HIV pandemic flourishes where individual capacity to learn and to respond is constrained...this capacity is constrained by belonging to a group that is discriminated against, marginalized, or stigmatized." The same could be said of nearly every other health issue--where freedom and participation in society are reduced, health is impacted.
The Institute of Medicine has defined the mission of public health as "assuring the conditions in which people can be healthy," and, as illustrated by Mann's quote above and Marmot's conclusions, it turns out that assuring these conditions has a lot to do with societal issues.
In fact, Marmot states in his book that it is autonomy and social participation that are critical for health. Here are a few other jarring, and well-researched, sentences from his book:
“The way we organize society leads to inequality in the lives people are able to lead.”
“Health inequalities are not confined to the poor and the nonpoor, but affect us all.”
“Where you stand in the social hierarchy is intimately related to your chances of getting ill, and your length of life.”
From Sweden to Russia to England to Hungary to Japan to the United States to Kerala, the circumstances in which you and I live and work are critical to health.
And why should we care? Because whether you work specifically in the field of health or rights or whether your role is of another kind, you have the ability every day to impact the health of the people around you. In your roles, as you allow autonomy and as you encourage others to more actively engage in their society, their health improves.
This is that inextricable link between health and rights. More than access to health care and more than correcting bad habits, health is intimately linked to control over one's life and the ability to participate in one's society--issues defined by human rights.