An individual’s health has arguably a good deal more to do with social circumstances rather than genetics alone. Of course genetics plays a role; and especially in an evolutionary sense, one’s genes were primarily what determined life or death. As the evolutionary pressure of natural selection wanes however, other societal correlates to health such as socio-economic status, upbringing, level of education, and access to resources interact and coordinate to formulate a more nuanced (and harder to understand) pattern of wellness and disease in 21st century populations. Race is often mistakenly conflated with genetics in explaining health statistics in certain populations. Of course there are certain genetic differences between a Ghanaian who’s lineage harbors a propensity for heterozygously exhibiting the sickle cell trait, and a Peruvian who’s lungs are made more efficient due to high altitude living; however in terms of percent genetic code, these differences are minuscule and fail to technically differentiate different races into species. How then does one explain health differences among these populations in a geographically small melting pot like the United States? The answer most likely resides in social perceptions of race; that is to say, how these perceptions translate into discrimination, translate into class stratification, and translate into drastic health inequalities. This trend is present when examining social hierarchy among individual races as well. According to Unnatural Causes – In Sickness and in Wealth the habit of cigarette smoking manifests itself in increasing risk of lung cancer as one goes down the social ladder.
As a White American male (about average in every quality), it was difficult to find a disease that affected my demographic in significant disproportion. Heart disease however, is particularly common among White males. I imagine that this could have something to do with genetics, manifesting in differences in our cardiology from our female counter parts. I also hypothesize that diet (high in red meat) and relative level of exercise (or lack thereof) may impact the long term health of the male heart; along these lines it’s interesting to note that the disparity between men and women changes with age, suggesting the power of social factors effecting health.
Women’s Health USA. “Heart Disease and Stroke.” , Women’s Health USA 2011. http://mchb.hrsa.gov/whusa11/hstat/hshi/pages/213hds.html (accessed July 9, 2014).
American Heart Association . “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2012 Update.” Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2012 Update. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/125/1/e2/F10.expansion.html (accessed July 9, 2014).