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Cultural Factors for Heart Disease

author image Martin Hughes
Martin Hughes is a chiropractic physician, health writer and the co-owner of a website devoted to natural footgear. He writes about health, fitness, diet and lifestyle. Hughes earned his Bachelor of Science in kinesiology at the University of Waterloo and his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Ore.
Cultural Factors for Heart Disease
Cultural factors play a significant role in heart disease. Photo Credit: ktsimage/iStock/Getty Images

According to the Center for Cross-Cultural Health--an organization dedicated to achieving a state of health equity for all people--nonwhite populations in the United States suffer a disproportionate amount of disease, injury, premature death and disability. Such health disparities occur across a broad range of conditions, including heart disease, and place a significant stress on individuals and communities. Elsewhere around the world, cultural factors such as dietary patterns, exercise habits and health behaviors affect the incidence of heart disease.

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Dietary Patterns

According to a 2002 study by Frank B. Hu published in the journal "Current Opinion in Lipodology," dietary pattern analysis, although complex and multifactorial, is an alternative and complementary approach to studying the relationship between a culture's diet and risk of chronic disease, including heart disease. Hu notes that consumption of vegetables, fruits, fiber, folate and whole grains, as a food consumption pattern, may be associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Studies, including a 2001 study by Eric Dewailly and colleagues published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," have suggested that a marine diet high in n-3 fatty acids, such as that consumed by many Inuit populations, may result in a reduced mortality rate from ischemic heart disease. In the January 2004 edition of the peer-reviewed journal "Mayo Clinic Proceedings," Dr. James H. O'Keefe Jr. and Loren Cordain, Ph.D., note that mismatches between contemporary dietary patterns and the human Paleolithic genome may play a significant role in the current epidemics of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Exercise Habits

Exercise habits, while varying considerably between individuals throughout most nations, are an important aspect of culture, and increased rates of physical activity, especially aerobic activity, reduces the risk of premature death and disability from cardiovascular disease. According to a 2002 study by Amy A. Eyler and colleagues at St. Louis University's School of Public Health, published in the journal "Women Health," cultural factors, along with environmental and socioeconomic factors, affect physical activity participation and cardiovascular disease rates, especially in women. Eyler notes that ethnic minority and low-income populations have the highest rates of cardiovascular disease and the lowest rates of leisure-time physical activity. In a 2004 article published in the "British Medical Bulletin," William W. Dressler states that decades of research has shown that disease risk--including the risk of cardiovascular disease--varies in relation to culture, and that changing patterns of exercise, along with diet and other lifestyle factors, may explain societal differences in disease risk.

Health Behaviors

According to a 2006 study by Theodore M. Singelis and William J. Brown published in the journal "Human Communication Research," people are shaped by cultural forces, and cultural forces significantly affect numerous, if not all, communication behaviors. Health behaviors, including regular participation in screening exams and imaging, blood tests and physician consultations, are a form of communication, and willingness to participate in appropriate health behaviors varies between cultures and genders. In a 2001 study examining health and behavior published in the "Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal," A. Mohit states that regard for health care advice is behaviorally influenced.

According to the American Heart Association, in the United States, several ethnic minority groups, especially women minorities, face the greatest risk of death due to heart disease and stroke, yet they have the lowest risk factor awareness of any racial or ethnic group. The Minority Nurse website reports that recent public health measures--including culturally competent preventive education--are attempting to eliminate the cardiovascular disease gap in the United States.

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