Governments in Australia and internationally show growing interest in wellbeing as a policy goal; however, such interests raise questions about the theories or definitions of wellbeing they will apply. Choices about how wellbeing is defined for policy purposes are likely to delimit the strategies applied. Wholly individualized conceptualizations of wellbeing may lead to policy focused narrowly on ‘improving’ individuals rather than on creating favourable social conditions. Also, Indigenous theories of wellbeing may have much to offer policy for public wellbeing, but little research has examined whether this potential is considered in contemporary health policy. We report on research examining Indigenous and non-Indigenous theories of wellbeing in a representative sample of current Australian health policy documents. We examine what theories or definitions of wellbeing are present, whether policies recognize social determinants of health; if ‘lifestyle drift’ is present; how Indigenous and non-Indigenous theories of wellbeing are positioned; and whether policies propose strategies consistent with their definitions of wellbeing. We discuss implications of current approaches for effective policy to promote Indigenous and non-Indigenous wellbeing.
- theory of wellbeing
- Indigenous health
- health policy
- social determinants of health