Heart Disease- Western Culture

When I first started thinking about a cultural bound syndrome I was under the assumption that I would come up with a illness that was seen as important to one society and imaginary to another. But this was not the case for me, I found something very disturbing to myself. Looking at heart disease and the type of behavior that contributes greatly to the risk of contracting it are prevalent in western society. Cecil Helman speculates that heart disease is more common in western cultures because of the way our society values our way of life when he says “In particular, his anti-social behaviour is rewarded in money, or status by that same society.”(Helman, C. 969-979) To me this hits home because I have several people in my family that have had to deal with heart disease. Heart disease is a relatively general term that can include heart attacks, congenital heart disease, or congestive heart failure to name a few. All of which are common to us in western culture, but what makes it even more shocking to me is that it is a real medical condition recognized by the biomedical community. To me one of the major components of this disease is not only the pressure western culture puts on money and possessions, but also the fact that especially in the United States we are a very obese country. This is a contributing factor in why heart failure could be considered a CBS for western culture. This problem with obesity also leads to higher blood pressure and higher cholesterol which are both reasons why we have such a high rate of heart disease in western culture. Until we realise that it is not normal to have heart disease and that it is a result of the way the vast majority of Americans live there lives we will continue to see high rates of heart disease until we realise the error of our ways. Being as heart disease is recognized by biomedical medicine heart disease is commonly treated by doctors and hospitals. It is treated in a variety of ways ranging from drugs, to surgery to fix heart ailments or unclog arteries. So the next time you think about playing a video game maybe you should go outside and do something active instead.


Helman, Cecil “Heart disease and the cultural construction of time: The type A behavior pattern as a western culture-bound syndrome”  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0277953687900013 Volume 25 issue 9, 1987. (accessed July 18, 2013)

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  1. Amber Hauck says:

    The term culture to me is a shared set of ideas and beliefs practiced by a specific population at a certain period of time. This definition has arisen from 5 years of anthropology classes and is probably the best simple explanation for culture that I can possibly give you. While there are outlying individuals, most of the population shares the same beliefs and practices the same everyday rituals. There are shared rules for behaviors and ideas about those behaviors among the majority of the population.
    The being said, I chose your post because heart disease being a CBS is one that I feel can be debated. I can see why you chose it, Western culture has a higher risk of heart disease due to our cultural habits of eating fatty foods and exercising less. Also your points about our anti-social behaviors are great points for your argument that heart disease is a CBS. But, for debates sake, I’m going to argue that it isn’t a CBS.
    The reason I say this is because while heart disease is more common in Western culture, it still exists in others. For instance just last week we learned that a lot of Native American cultures contract heart disease due to their stressful, poverous lives and the poor foods they receive from the government. We can find examples of heart disease in almost any culture, making the source of the disease something more than culturally bound. In fact, the United States doesn’t even make the top 10 list in death rate from heart disease, the countries shown on the map linked here: http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-top-ten/countries-by-highest-death-rate-from-heart-disease.html
    Different ethnomedical systems and different cultures may have different explanations for heart disease as well, and that may be why we don’t find them on this map as well. Other explanations for heart disease may include spiritual possession. Another problem is that countries without proper healthcare may never diagnose heart disease as a cause of death, therefore making it difficult to find the presence of it.

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