In recent years, American attitudes toward health have undergone a dramatic change. The evidence is all around us -- from sweatsuit chic to stress-reduction classes, from best-seller lists crammed with medical self-care books to supermarket shelves stocked with low-cholesterol, low-calorie, low-sodium foods.

At the heart of this "wellness movement" lies a simple, yet profound, shift -- more and more of us are taking responsibility for our own health. We are recognizing that health-care professionals are not deities, but valued partners in meeting our goal of physical and mental well-being. And we have broadened our focus beyond cure of disease to its prevention.

This increased interest in health occurs as the medical care system becomes more and more complex. We don't just "go to the doctor" anymore. Today we face a mind-spinning array of options including health maintenance organizations (HMOs), walk-in clinics and a broad range of medical specialties.

A "major upheaval" is taking place in health care, says Harvard sociologist Paul Starr. The health industry will see more changes in the next six years, predicts Columbia University economist Eli Ginzburg, than it has in the last 36.

Dr. Evelyn Hess, director of immunology at the University of Cincinnati, puts it this way: "It's beginning to be quite a jungle in the private world of medicine."

Expenses, too, are causing great concern as they devour increasing chunks of our individual and societal budgets. Americans spent a record $355.4 billion for health care in 1983 -- a total of $1,459 per person -- representing 10.8 percent of the gross national product. The average American spends more on medical care than on clothing, recreation, personal care and education. It is the fifth largest personal expense after food, housing, transportation and household operation.

So it's no surprise that when The Washington Post surveyed readers to determine what you wanted us to cover in more depth, health topped the list. Today we launch HEALTH: A Weekly Journal of Medicine, Fitness and Psychology, designed to keep you up-to-date on the latest health news and to help you make your way through today's medical maze.

Health will cover a broad range of topics -- from the latest scientific advances to practical guidelines for improving your health. Regular features will include:

* The Cutting Edge, a wrap-up of the latest medical research and health trends.

* Mind Matters, an exploration of mental health, behavior, psychology and psychiatry.

* The Patient's Advocate, a weekly column by veteran Post medical writer Victor Cohn geared to helping you become a better-informed health care consumer.

* Healthtalk, Sandy Rovner's popular Style Plus page column, now featured in Health.

* Second Opinion, a forum for points of view on health-related subjects.

* Fitness, up-to-date information on keeping in top condition.

* How & Why, a special page for young readers by science writer Catherine O'Neill.

* Your Medical Dollar, advice on battling rising health-care costs.

* Consultation, a question and answer column by Washington-area family practitioner Dr. Jay Siwek.

* Eating Right, the latest information on nutrition.

* The Health Calendar, weekly listings of workshops, classes, lectures and resources for the health-minded.

Also, watch for frequent features on aging, ethics, environmental health, concerns of the disabled and books.

Health welcomes your written comments, suggestions and ideas, and we plan a letters column for reader response.

To your health!