Health research often cites a certain health outcome as being associated with, or more prevalent in a certain demographic groups. This implies that not everyone is the same and that membership in a certain group makes us more at risk certain health conditions than others. This is referred to as population demographics. This research will explore the question of why membership in a certain demographic group makes a person more likely to be at risk for a certain health outcome.
Demographics refer to a person’s gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and culture. People are a member of many different demographic groups. Genetics play a fact in certain demographic categories, such as a person’s genetic race and familial backgrounds. Demographics are large categories membership in these groups determines macro-trend in the status of a member of that group’s health status. The most important thing about population demographics is that not all members of the groups will have a certain health condition.
Perhaps a bigger factor in population demographics is culture and behaviors that are influenced by a person’s culture. For instance, one study found that medical students practiced more healthy behaviors than non-medical students at a University (Frank, Carrera, Elon, & Herzberg, 2006). In this study, medical students are a member of a certain sub-culture at the University. They might also be a part of other groups, such as male, female, African American, or Caucasian, but their membership in the group of medical students overrides these other influences in this case. This suggests that individual behaviors play a bigger role in health status than demographics.
Cultural patterns, traditions, and beliefs are a part of every person’s personality and behavior patterns. Culture is a social factor that influences the foods that are preferred, exercise levels, and health beliefs. Culture can influence the daily choices that a person makes regarding their health. For instance, food and family play an important role in Hispanic cultures, which has been associated with an increased risk for diabetes.
Culturally based health beliefs also play a role in health status. A study of indigenous peoples in North America found that educational status, coping skills, resilience, physical environments, and social environments all play a role in a person’s health behaviors. This suggests that a biomedical approach might not be the best solution for all patients. One has to consider the culture of the person and find a way to motivate them to change their health related behaviors.
One example of this is from the experience of a friend of mine. She is African American and a college professor. Her family grew up with a Southern tradition, rich in high fat foods. Although she knows that these foods contribute to her diabetes and obesity, her cravings for these foods overrides her intellect and knowledge about what these foods do to her. She often reverts to “comfort foods” that are unhealthy when she is stressed about her job or family.
The final example comes from my own background. I grew up eating fast foods, potatoes cooked in bacon grease, and with the idea that certain health outcomes are ‘inevitable” because everyone in my family has diabetes. Most of my family is very close and of lower education than myself. I realized that I could avoid it, but only if I was willing to let go of traditional family foods and exercise more than family culture would dictate. I took action, and so far, have avoided the “inevitable” health consequences that have plagued the rest of my family. I had to be willing to break cultural patterns in order to make good health decisions for myself. Sometimes, cultural norms need to be overridden in order to maintain a healthy status.
- Frank, E., Carerra, J., Elon, L. & Hertzberg, V. (2006). Basic demographics, health practices, health status of U.S. students. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 31(6): 499-505.
- Knobb-Lamouche, J. (2012). Culture as a Social Determinants of Health: Examples from Native Communities. Institute on Medicine. Retrieved from http://iom.nationalacademies.org/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/SelectPops/HealthDisparities/Culture%20as%20a%20Social%20Determinant%20of%20Health.pdf
- Rodriguez, C. (2013, October 17). Beautiful but deadly: Latinos’ curves put them at risk. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/15/health/latino-cardiovascular-disparities/