Biological Approach

I believe that the biological approach is useful in understanding health mainly because it focuses on three different aspects (environmental, genetics, and individual choice) and how they connect with each other. This could be helpful in understanding the health of individuals because if these three aspects of the biological approach is well known, then diseases and other illnesses could be predicted before they may reach an individual. This is what is happening in some societies today. For example, if someone who is practicing medicine wanted to know the chances of an african catching Malaria, a disease that is spread through mosquitoes, they could check to see if that individual is a carrier for sickle-cell disease (people who have sickle-cell disease or is a carrier are resistant to Malaria). This is an example of how the environmental and genetics aspect of the biological approach are related. People who live in areas are more susceptible to Malaria, but if the person’s genes (or DNA) encodes for sickle-cell disease, then that person is resistant.

The distinction for me between a disease and an illness is that a disease is when there is scientifically something wrong with an individual or a population. This would include cancer, bacterial and viral infections, auto-immune diseases, and etc. An illness to me is when a culture believes that there is something spiritually, physically, or mentally wrong with that individual. These are words that are often used interchangeably in medical settings as many people refer to these words as having the same definition. The distinction between the two words was not obvious to me and took some thought to sort them out.

I believe that the culture that Miner is talking about in the article is the western culture. I began to realize this when he was talking about that man who cut down the cherry tree and threw a wampum across the Potomac river, as history books suggest. Also, the “mouth-medicine-men” gave it away as well when describing how we brush our teeth. In the Nacirema culture described, they have a large emphasis on physical attributes relating to good health. If an individual is overweight they are classified as being unhealthy, and the same goes for people who are underweight.  The culture also believes in a well-developed market economy, which is true for western culture because the more economically stable an individual or society, the more ‘healthy’ they are in society.

It is interesting to see an article written about our culture with an unbiased and naive perspective.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. shivani says:

    Yes, I agree that the biological approach is quite useful in understanding health and illness. The biological approach highlights the importance of genetics, environment and individual choice (though this is also influenced outside of biology as well) in health and plays a pivotal role in understanding diseases. Your example of sickle cell disease and how that is determined via genetics/biology was really good.
    I actually have encountered the Nacirema paper before this class so I already knew what this paper was about but I am pretty certain that I also realized that this was about American/Western culture when Miner started talking about the cherry tree, referencing George Washington. You made a really good point relating health to physical attributes. Looking overweight/underweight serves as an indicator to people that those individuals are ‘unhealthy’. Additionally, as you also pointed out, health is directly connected to wealth. Your status of health is contingent on how much money you can put into it, essentially.
    I actually disagree with you on your very last point. I think the point of this article was to provide that biased viewpoint. It emphasizes the biases, ignorance, and superiority complexes often displayed when you’re talking about another culture from the viewpoint of your own – Miner is providing a really astute commentary on ethnocentrism by flipping the script.


  2. shivani says:

    The examples you pulled from the Nacirema article still ring true today. (sorry, forgot to add this line into the above comment/don’t know how to edit comments!)

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