Non-Hispanic White (Caucasian) and Cystic Fibrosis

Although you cannot biologically test for race (not biologically discrete), race has been used to hold in place a social hierarchy and to categorize people into groups. These groups are categorized by which certain group is more likely to have x medical problem. The US Pima Indians story helps explain the relationship between race, genetics, and health. For example according to lecture, the US Pima Indians have a 38% rate of Type II Diabetes making them the most prone group to having this medical problem. This phenomenon attempted to be explained through the Thrifty Genotype Hypothesis, which includes mutation, natural selection, gene flow, and genetic drift (Lecture). Hundreds of years ago a mutation occurred in the genes of the US Pima Indians making them better able to store fats and process sugars. Natural selection then came into place by making them better able to survive during times of famine due to their gene mutations. Due to their mutation in times of famine they had stored fat for their bodies to survive on. Gene flow then played a role in their prevalence of Type II Diabetes because the US Pima rarely ever married outside of their people keeping the gene mutation in their close-knit community. Finally gene flow played a role because of the fact that the US Pima rarely married or had children with people from outside their community the mutated gene was passed onto their offspring keeping it going generation to generation, even up to the modern day US Pima Indians. Therefore, the relationship between race, genetics, and health is as follows: the US Pima were classified as an American Indian race and because of their race they have specific genetic factors associated with it (mutation that causes Type II Diabetes). These specific genetic factors associate with their race help determine their health status. However, race cannot be used as a proxy for genetics (Lecture). The relationship between race, genetics, and health is a grey area because there are many other factors that can play a role in determining ones health status such as diet and exercise. Just because someone is classified as US Pima Indian does not mean that they will have Type II Diabetes. It just means you are more likely to have Type II Diabetes. Finally the relationship between race, genetics, and health can also be explained through a social hierarchy. The Eugenicist movement in America was a dark historical time. This movement was put into place to solidify white supremacy. During this movement, whites targeted certain racial groups (mostly non white groups), classified them as being unfit to reproduce, and sterilized them. For example the story of Elaine Riddick: Elaine was just a thirteen-year-old African American girl when she was raped, resulting in a pregnancy. After her pregnancy the state of North Carolina decided she was unfit to reproduce again and sterilized her. This was all to ensure white supremacy and make non-whites more inferior. This explains the relationship between race, genetics, and health because Elaine was classified as non-white (African American) race by the state of North Carolina and because of her race she had “unfit” genetics to reproduce. The state of North Carolina didn’t want anymore of her “unfit” genetics walking around so they sterilized her. In other words, because she was classified as being an inferior race does not mean she was unfit to reproduce. Solidifying that race is not a proxy for genetics or determining ones health. Today, Elaine is a successful woman that went to college. Her son is a successful person as well. Clearly she was not “unfit” as determined by the state of North Carolina based on her race. Race to me just is another classifying factor. Just because you’re a certain race, for example African American does not mean that you will have hypertension (which is prevalent in African Americans). It just means you are more likely to have it. As I previously stated, the relationship between race, genetics, and health is a grey area and definitely needs more research and tweaking before we can put a full out say on its connections.

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Cystic Fibrosis is common in non-Hispanic whites (Caucasians) from European decent in America. According to one in every 2,500 whites has the disease. It is a lifelong hereditary disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to form in the pancreas, lungs, and other organs. The mucus blocks the airways damaging the lungs and making it difficult to breath. In the Pancreas, the mucus clogs the track from the Pancreas to the digestive system, making it difficult for the body to digest food properly. In order to develop Cystic Fibrosis a person must inherit the mutated gene from each parent. This means that each parent has one mutated gene for the disease; the child would inherit each of the parent’s mutated genes to develop Cystic Fibrosis. Since this is a genetically inherited disease I’m not entirely sure why it is so prevalent just in Caucasians with European decent. If I had to guess though I would say something happened thousands of years ago in the genes of the Europeans that made this gene mutate. It could have been an adaptation to an environment (maybe elevated climates the lungs tried to compensate changing the mucus production gene causing CF) that made the gene mutate or an adaptation to a certain diet (heavy diets that require lots of insulin production from the pancreas may have mutated the mucus producing gene causing CF) that may have made the genes mutate. The gene mutation related to CF is called CFTR. According to Genetics Home Reference mutations in the CFTR gene disrupt the function of the chloride channels, preventing them from regulating the flow of chloride ions and water across cell membranes. As a result, cells that line the passageways of the lungs, pancreas, and other organs produce mucus that is unusually thick and sticky. This mucus clogs the airways and various ducts, causing the characteristic signs and symptoms of cystic fibrosis.




Michigan State Dept. of Anthropology. “Week 2: Lecture 2 (Medical Anthropology: Race and Medicine” Accessed July 7, 2014.

Genetics Home Reference. “Cystic Fibrosis”. Last modified August 2012. Accessed July 8, 2014.

Lungs.Org.  “Cystic Fibrosis (CF)”. Accessed July 8, 2014,

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Justin Blazejewski says:

    I found it interesting that Cystic Fibrosis is inherited only when both parents are carriers of the disease, yet there was such prevalence among Caucasians of European decent in America. After reading your summary I agree it would be hard to decipher what factors contribute to this genetic mutation however I would look toward elevated climates and industrial pollution for answers. Since the disease causes sticky mucus to block the airways damaging the lungs and making it difficult to breath it would make sense that mutation started as something airborne. I know from being a football fan that the Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark carries a sickle cell trait and as a result cannot play in Denver’s high altitude stadium. This has been the case since he lost his spleen and gall bladder after becoming ill following a game in Denver a few years back.
    With this in mind, illness related to these conditions is obviously not something to disregard. I also think it would be useful to have airborne pathogen testing done to determine if something in the air could have caused this mutation possibly from industrial or factory work hundreds or thousands of years ago. There is a possibility if this were the case for reasoning that Cystic Fibrosis relates to Caucasian European descendants more than others.
    Lastly, I find racial categories to be very beneficial in clinical studies. Upon correlating certain traits or diseases to specific races, we can make attempts to track back to the initiation or onset. From this point, society becomes much more aware of certain probabilities of inheritance regarding their specific race.

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