The world is becoming a global village which means interaction of people from different races, ethnicities and cultures. One of the most important pillars of one’s life is good health. Therefore medical anthropology tries to look at how culture and race affect the well being of an individual in terms of health. Countries like the United States have been ranked among the best in provision of health care to individuals.
A cross-cultural health disparity refers to the differences in physical and mental health among different people all over the world. Local biology on the other hand is defined as the ways in which culture determines an individual’s structure in terms of physical characteristics, genetics and health (Margaret, 2010). Human differences are the ways in which one individual differs from another in skin color, height or physical characteristics and genetic composition.
According to a research conducted by various scientists and doctors, African Americans have been observed to be more prone to mortality from chronic diseases such as heart disease, blood pressure diabetes obesity and cancer due to various reasons ranging from lack of adequate health care to poor living conditions and so on (Collins, 2002). In this essay we look at Low birth weight in African American mothers, how human bodies are different from one another and how People from different ethnicities can have different bodies and health problems. We focus on big countries like the United States which have a high rate of cultural and ethnic diversity.
Low birth weight in African American mothers
Low birth weight refers to a situation where a newborn child weighs less than what is expected or required for it to be healthy. A low birth weight is when the baby weighs 2500grams and below while very low weighing kids can weigh less than 1500grams. Low birth weight has contributed a lot to infant mortality. Infant mortality refers to a situation whereby a baby dies before its first birthday.
Countries are working hard to reduce infant mortality and it has been a success as the rate continues to decrease with time. They have done this through improvement of health care facilities through provision of prenatal care, subsidising delivery fees for mothers to make it affordable and modernizing delivery centres so as to cater for emergencies.
However, it has been observed over the years that low birth weight and also preterm delivery among African American mothers is more compared to white women as shown below
Source: Centre for Disease Control and PreventionOver the past 40 years, epidemiologic research has shown many significant associations between the socio-demographic characteristics of mothers and the birth weight of infants. Risk factors known to cause infant mortality are cigarette smoking, poverty, inadequate prenatal care, child bearing age (Collins, 1990) and the black race (David, 1991). Causes such as drug abuse are mostly associated with African Americans since most of them are considered to be poor and hence more prone to drug abuse (Merrill, 2012). The cases of low birth weight continue to reduce but at a faster rate among the whites compared to black women (Kleinman, 1997). According to the many researches done, scientists have concluded that race has a lot of contribution to the genetic makeup that affects birth weight. The puzzle for the cause of these disparities in birth weight as remained unsolved leading scientists to assume that black women differ genetically from white women in their ability to bear normal or large infants (Hulsey, 1991) which for example refers to “genetic factors affecting growth, such as neonatal sex and race”
Studies have been conducted on white women and African American mothers. It shows that most African Americans mothers trace their origin in West Africa where there was slave trade while the U.S blacks derive about three quarters of their genetic heritage from West African ancestors and the rest from Europeans. It also showed that women born by of “pure” West African origin give birth to smaller infants compared to African Americans due to the European genetic mixture in them (Chakraborty, 1991). Another research was done on Non-Hispanic black infants, non-Hispanic white infants and Hispanic infants by the March of Dimes organization in 2013. It showed that the total preterm birthrate was 11.4%. However, 16.3% of non-Hispanic black infants were born preterm, compared to10.2%of non-Hispanic white infants and 11.3% of Hispanic infants (Martin, 2015). These results showed that the rate of preterm births among black infants was 60% higher than the rate for non-Hispanic white infants and 44% higher than the rate for Hispanic infants.
One of the causes found was that African American women are more prone to chronic stress compared to white women. This is due to one factor such as interpersonal racial discrimination (Stansil, 2000). Wadhwa showed that chronic maternal exposure to stress—through maternal cardiovascular, immune, and neuroendocrine processes—is detrimental to infants’ birth-weight. In addition, psycho physiological stress causes an increase in production of corticotrophin-releasing hormone which leads to preterm delivery (Nancy, 2016). When research was conducted, a higher number of low birth weights were observed in African Americans women who experienced racial discrimination than those who did not (Collins, 2000)
In addition, African-Americans tend to experience higher rates of poverty than whites, and have less access to health care. They also are more likely to suffer health problems like obesity and diabetes, and more likely to use drugs while pregnant. This has been a cause but also well-off African Americans experience these low birth weights and it was associated with the stress of having to be the model or only minorities or stress associated with them having to work extra hard to prove to the world that they are able according to Arlene, a professor at the Michigan school of public health.
In order to reduce these disparities in the increased number of low birth weight among African Americans, the government in the United States has.
How human bodies are different from one another
This is also referred to as human variation and it ranges from physical characteristics to their genetic makeup. Variation occurs in every species of living being and it is what enables them to survive in different ecological conditions. These variations may be genetically inherited, or adapted from the environment and life choices. Many genetic differences have little effect on the reproduction or lifestyle of living beings but help differentiate one species form another. However, we all belong to the same, single, biological community, the human species.
There are environmental factors that bring about variations in human bodies such as climate and disease and nutrition. In regards to climatic factors, people who live in areas that have more exposure to sunlight have a darker skin tone that enables the body to produce more melanin to ensure growth. On the other hand people who live further from the sun in equatorial regions have a light skin tone because they need to absorb more sunlight in order to produce vitamin D for survival. Diseases also make human bodies vary. For example rickets makes people develop bow legs which vary from the other people. Nutrition also affects human bodies although the kind of nutrition one takes is their choice hence this factor is controllable. Feeding in foods that contain Besphenol(BPA) which appears in foods that are plastically canned and once the plastic is exposed to heat it melts and when people consume it over a long period of time, may experience physiological obesity which makes their body appearance different from others in terms of size (Bertoli, 2015)
Genetic variations range from genetic sources and mutations, sexual reproduction and epigenetics. For example, eye colour is a genetically determined trait in that some people have brown eyes others blue. Other characteristics that are genetically inherited include, earlobe attachment, hair colour, and hair growth patterns
Human body variations are measured in anthropometry which is defined as the study of the measurements of different parts of the human body. The most commonly used measurements include, weight, height, organ size (brain, penis, vagina), and waist-hip ratio. Some people are taller than others while others are slender or heavier. This body differences help designers build machines that suit them, seat belts and identification for forensics through use of fingerprints (Jain, 2000).
Theories have come up to explain the differences in human bodies such as creation theory which states that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God which scientists criticized and came up with the evolution theory which talks about gradual development of man over the decades through gene mutations and adaptations. They developed different body structures as they were adapting to different climatic conditions.
Facial difference is also noticeable in all human beings in that it is so difficult to find people who are exactly alike unless they are identical twins. These is a nature’s doing so that we are able to recognize each other. There are differences in the length or shape of the nose and location of the eyes. Michael from University of California says that facial characteristics are not similar to other body patterns in that a person with long legs must have long arms. But you can have close-set eyes and either a wide nose or a small nose. All this are a result of genetic variations. Genome variations are differences in the sequence of DNA from one person to another. Just as people do not look the same their genetic makeup is also different. There are more than three million differences between a person’s genome and anyone else’s.
People from different ethnicities can have different bodies and health problems
Ethnicity and health refers to the relationship between an individual’s health their race and ethnicity. There are health disparities in terms of life expectancy, mortality rate and health status between people of different ethnicities and races. Physical variations in human beings are considered to be a product of nature and cultural background (Margaret, 2010).
As scientists try to get a better understanding of how the genome and environmental interact as determinants of health, some aspects of human identity pose a challenge and an opportunity for clarification. That is sex/gender and race/ ethnicity. This includes the social dimensions and genetic composition which vary at different degrees. Health is measured through variables such as life expectancy and incidence of diseases (Collins, 2004).
Race is defined as a group of people who have similar or inherited biological traits (Ann, 2011). Race and ethnicity are used in science interchangeably. There are various factors that affect health disparities between people of different racial groups. These include, racial populations, their culture, environmental and social factors. For example, some races are linked to socioeconomic difficulties and differences and less access to health care facilities (Williams, 1994). Social conditions such as poverty stigmatization, oppressive social relationships can also be associated with health conditions (Merrill, 2012). She refers to these social interactions as syndemics. There are some diseases which are considered to be associated with some regions since they are more prevalent there and people assume it is racial. Diseases such as sickle-cell anaemia are at a high rate in sub-Saharan Africa (Bloom, 1995) and Lactose intolerance affects many Europeans and Hispanics (Bhatnagar, 2007). Different populations can be considered to have a high risk or low risk of a certain disease depending on the ancestry, environmental factors and genetic factors (Brian, 2001).
The way a disease progresses is also said to vary among different populations. A study done on HIV progression showed that it progressed faster in black people or Africans than white people (Hall, 2007).
In addition, the socioeconomic condition of people in certain places also affects their body and health. For example where there is not much economic developments and hence people cannot easily access healthy food due to travelling distance, the occupants of such a region may consume a lot of fast foods, junk and unhealthy foods which may cause obesity. It also leads to cardiovascular diseases such as heart-attacks and diabetes (Suarez, 2015). For African Americans in the United States, racism is an organized social and cultural phenomenon that causes social and health disparities through exclusion, prejudice, and discrimination. It is manifested as both distal and proximal factors affecting their health (Paradies Y, 2015).
The cultural beliefs of people also affect their health for example some Africans in sub-Saharan Africa believe that their health is dependent on fate they therefore don’t seek medication when sick. Others believe that health is an important aspect of one’s life and take care of their health. These beliefs are one factor that causes differences in the health of people (Lewis, 2000).
Genetic factors also affect human bodies and health. A phenotype is the outward or physical appearance of a living being. In human beings, phenotypic characteristics are manifested in terms of skin colour, hair colour, eye colour and height. It affects he physical look and body of people. A genotype however is an internal characteristic that can be inherited. Some diseases are present in the genes of a person and these may be inherited by the offspring.
Government policies have tried to tackle health inequalities such as awareness programs in for example areas where sickle cell anaemia or diabetes is prevalent, people are made aware of the early signs and symptoms of the disease so as to obtain early treatment (Jorde, 2004). Also ethnic based drugs have been invented which have a certain propensity to heal some illnesses in certain people. For example in the United States, a drug, BiDil, was formed to treat congestive heart failure among black Americans. They were observed to have very low response to the earlier drugs and hence a stronger one had to be invented (Exner, 2001).
Medical anthropology has put a lot of study in Cross-cultural health disparities, local biologies and human differences. Results have shown high health risk for African Americans or black people due to the various factors discussed above. The United States government is also putting effort to reduce these disparities and reduce racial discrimination. There is hope that in years to come these differences will decrease.
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