Culture’s Big Impact on Health

ABSTRACT

Culture is integrated into all aspects of a person’s life. It can determine the type of food they eat, the level of hygiene and even social interactions. These factors determine the level of well-being of an individual and overall health of a society. Healthcare can be drastically different depending on factors such as religion, economics and education. The implications of such diversity could mean that while one person is being healed from a disease in one country, across a border there may be another who is dying from the same disease but with no means of help. Ultimately, our own interpretation of health is defined by our individual culture.


You wake up with a burning fever and a sore throat. To fight off your cold, just take an Advil and sip some of your mother’s homemade chicken soup. This response to a winter cold may seem pretty typical but in fact, it is completely shaped and sculpted by culture. In another country, instead of chicken soup you may have Jeera, a common remedial Indian spice to treat sickness (The Health Site). Even, simply taking an advil may not even be an option. In fact, our own interpretation of health is defined by our individual culture. Healthcare can be drastically different depending on factors such as religion, economics and education. In Western culture, diseases and viruses are regarded as scientifically explicable. However, other cultures such as in rural Afghanistan, illness may be viewed as an evil spirit and that you cannot change the course of events. Accessibility to technology within a society can determine whether the spread of a disease can be prevented or not. There are a vast number of factors that influence a culture, leading to great diversity in levels of health. The potential effects of this diversity could mean that while one person is being healed from a disease in one country, across a border there may be another who is dying from the same disease but with no means of help.

Culture is integrated into all aspects of a person’s life. It can determine the type of food they eat, the level of hygiene and even social interactions. In Western culture, specifically the United States, there are some of the best medical institutions in the world, yet maintaining proper health is a major issue. For instance, obesity rates are soaring with 35% of Americans overweight. 18% of deaths in the United States are linked to obesity (Paul). This is a staggering number yet we have more than enough resources to solve the problem. The reason we choose not implement change lies in our country’s cultural foundations. Ease of accessibility to fast foods means efficiency for a cheap price, even if this is unhealthy long term. People want things quickly and for a low amount of money, that is why fast food is so convenient. Now compare a culture across the sea, where the traditional diet is much higher in nutritional quality. In Okinawa, Japan, people live the oldest and longest compared to every other country and have the highest percentage of people living beyond 100 (Booth). Researchers believe this is due to a highly nutritional diet filled with fish, tofu and vegetables. The Japanese culture plays a key role in the health of its constituents. While Americans’ go to food may be a Big Mac, in Japan it may be a serving of fish and vegetables.

Another factor that influences health is politics. While politics may not seem to have a direct impact on health, it controls the enforcement and allocation of health resources to the public. When the Affordable Care Act was first signed into law in 2010, President Obama believed that it was essential to put an end to the corruption in the healthcare industry. Many Americans did not have health coverage because it was too expensive and would avoid the doctor as much as possible. However, avoiding annual check-ups led to the worsening of certain illnesses and, when unnoticed for long periods of time, will cost much more. Now, approximately 85% of Americans are insured for health coverage and can frequently visit the doctor to maintain a more steady health record. Similarly, Denmark has a public healthcare system where medical treatment is available to all Denmark citizens financed through income tax. The quality of the healthcare system is extremely high and there is free and equal access for 5.4 million citizens (Højsgaard). Danish citizens can go check out any minor condition before it worsens, which prevents costly procedures in the future. Overall, having health care policies make it simple for citizens to maintain wellness before symptoms turn into illnesses that are difficult to cure.

In contrast, many countries create a healthcare barrier making it difficult for many people to find the care they need. Currently in Africa, there have been 10,130 cases of Ebola, with approximately half of those cases resulting in fatalities. There have been a total of 9 cases in the United States. Yet, it seems that we are more terrified of it here, where we have fantastic medical treatments and doctors. The reason for this can be explained by looking at the differences between societies. Our political system is the root cause for why Ebola is such a controversial issue in the US. Democrats and Republicans are battling for media coverage but the result is only creating more hysteria. In West Africa we see the exact opposite happening. West Africa does not have a vast communication system or extensive media coverage. With such contrasting societies, we can see an obvious contrast in the data. West Africa has a mortality rate of 75% (most likely higher) while America has only had one death so far. In West Africa, there are hot-lines to call if you believe you may have Ebola, yet hundreds of cases go unreported. This is due to the social and economic consequences of having Ebola. If a mother believes her son has Ebola, she may not call authorities for several reasons. First of all, it terrifies all of the people in a community to see the unfamiliar sight of doctors walking around in biohazard suits. Also, the idea of her son being taken far away to some unknown location where he may, very possibly, die alone is heart breaking. Then there are the poverty barriers. The areas are devastatingly under-resourced. On average, West Africa, spends about $96 per person on healthcare per year. (Guinea spends just $32 and Liberia spends $65.) Canada, meanwhile, invests $5,741 and the United States, $8,895(Belluz). When comparing this to the US, not only are we spending more money on patients but we are being extremely cautious about the situation. Recently, one man yelled out on an airplane joking about having Ebola and causes the flight to end early with the man being taken to an emergency center. This man (wrongfully so) yelled out “I have Ebola” but look at the measures that were taken. In the full length video taken by a passenger, you can see the man protesting and admitting that he does not really have Ebola, yet they continue to consider the situation a serious emergency.

The reactions to Ebola demonstrate how the state of health care for a single virus can be treated in completely opposite ways depending on the culture of the nation.

Cultures where technology is advanced and growing does not necessarily mean better health. Most often, high production rates correspond directly to high levels of air pollution. Some of the most polluted cities are still very advanced such as Delhi, Beijing and Los Angeles. The World Health Organization ranked Delhi as having “the highest level of the airborne particulate matter, PM2.5 considered most harmful to health.”(Park). Again, politics of a culture comes into play as well because Delhi has weak enforcement of factory pollution. In China, the smog is so dense that almost everyone must wear masks and the atmospheric pollution in cities has been likened to a nuclear winter. Up until very recently, China has not taken measures to enforce limits on factories’ air pollution which also ranks as one of the most polluted world cities. Since the 1960’s, federal standards have been placed to protect and improve the environment of the United States. While high levels of air pollution are linked to major cities in both China and the US, The US still has some of the lowest air pollution levels globally.

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Nonetheless, the cultural centers are creating hazardous airborne particles tiny enough to enter the lungs and bloodstream. The health in centers located around cities is poorer due to the high levels of pollution.

In more rural areas, there is noticeably less pollution and healthier people. Switzerland was the top country for clean air in 2014 (Gregoire). Noticeable differences can be seen between China & US versus Switzerland. For starters, Switzerland has a relatively small population while China and the US have massive populations. “The Swiss have universal coverage, the healthiest population in the Western Hemisphere, and a government that spends a mere 2.7 percent of GDP on health care: about a third of what ours spends,” writes Forbes’s Avik Roy. Many of Switzerland’s practices that make it so “great” would not be practical if moved to large scale. Thus, we have major differences in culture due to economics, population and technology, which explains the differences in health between Switzerland and major cities such as China and the United States.

Healthcare is directly impacted by the society in which it originates from. Depending on where you live, there may be drastic differences in the state of health between you and someone living in another state.  Culture affects accessibility to medicine, patient diagnosis and state of health. Different values and traditions play a major role in the well-being of people and their health conditions. Culture is integrated into all aspects of a person’s life. It can determine the type of food they eat, the level of hygiene and even social interactions. Factors such as economics, education and religion all impact the way healthcare is distributed and maintained. This explains how the health of humankind can be so vastly different across the globe.

Works Cited

Gregoire, Carolyn. “Why Switzerland Has Some Of The Happiest, Healthiest Citizens In The World.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 07 Oct. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Booth, Michael. “The Okinawa Diet.” The Guardian. N.p., 19 June 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Belluz, Julia. “No One Knows Exactly How Bad West Africa’s Ebola Epidemic Is.” Vox. N.p., 9 Oct. 2014. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.

Paul, Timothy S. “Obesity Kills More Americans Than Previously Thought.”Obesity Kills More Americans Than Previously Thought 08/14/2013. Columbia University, 15 Aug. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Mayhew, Maureen, MD. “How Culture Influences Health.” Caring for Kids New to Canada. Canadian Paediatric Society, June 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.

Højsgaard Madsen, Christina. “The Danish Health Care System.”University College Lillebealt. N.p., 27 Sept. 2012. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.

Park, Madison. “Top 20 Most Polluted Cities in the World.” CNN. Cable News Network, 08 May 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.

Larson, Christina. “Air Pollution, Birth Defects, and the Risk in China (and Beyond).” Bloomberg Business Week. N.p., 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.

“Jeera – a Home Remedy for Relief from Cold.” Jeera – a Home Remedy for Relief from Cold. Ed. Editorial Team. The Health Site, 24 Dec. 2013. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.

 

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