Health matters Sociology of illness, prevention and care Edited by Alan Peterson and Charles Waddell Open University Press 384 pages £16.99

As health sociology is now recognised as a positive contribution to health promotion and public health policies, this book is a timely addition to the knowledge base.

The contributors seek basic common denominations which influence health and emphasise those rapidly changing factors which will persist into the 21st century.

The book is divided into four sections - sociology, experience, care and prevention - each succinctly introduced by the editors.

The section on caring has several contributors whereas that on prevention only has four, which seems somewhat imbalanced.

The text relates to inequalities of health, healthcare and prevention in the UK, Australia and New Zealand and is written for the benefit of students, healthcare providers and the interested public.

The latter group may have difficulty understanding parts of the book where terminology is very specific.

Discussion of the term 'health' may have set the scene more appropriately on the interesting chapter on evolutionary medicine.

The text could have been broken and supplied by additional graphs, tables or some examples of the children's images of health (chapter 8).

The changing global needs of society are widely addressed with a focus on environmental issues and the recognition that the West considers its own health matters in isolation.

Contributors provide critical analysis of their individual specialties, but it would be interesting to read more about their findings. This could be of value for national and governmental health policies.

Williams (chapter 14) provides much food for thought on emotions, equity and health, highlighting the effects of emotions and experience. This leads into the section on experience very positively.

Discussion ensues on areas where the health status of the population is poor, and subsequent economic development is impeded.

Attention is drawn to the need for long-term solutions rather than quick fixes alongside the removal of barriers to health knowledge and care. There is a plea for representation of minority groups, and for epidemiologists to compare minority groups with the white population where 'risk' factors may be different, more positively.

Lifestyle, behaviour patterns and risk factors are frequently identified which may lead to overtones of victim-blaming. This is balanced by examination of the concept of optimum health, individual and community involvement in decision-making, and the notation of where the locus of control should be.

McNamara confronts the dilemma for professionals who may become more involved in difficult and subjective decision-making in the future. She also provides an insightful examination of decision making surrounding death. This is followed by an examination of the euthanasia programme which was carried out for a period in Australia.

Innovative ideas in patient care emerge in the third section, with 'participation in care' being explored in an illuminating manner by Henderson.

The final section focuses on preventive interventions where ideas relate to the effect on health inequalities; but it states that Western society places greater priority on individual rights rather than on those of collectivity.

A stimulating read.

Christine Wallington

Patients Association volunteer.