Final Project: Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is an epidemic that is sweeping the nation. According to the American Heart Association, it is the leading cause of death for men by 45 years of age and women by 65 years of age. This rate has been increasing since the 1960s, and worldwide deaths from cardiovascular disease are anticipated to increase from 28.9% to 36.3%.  Using the six anthropological approaches, we are able to better understand this disease and the factors that contribute to it.

The biological approach asks why is someone sick? What factors are influencing their illness (Conceptual Approaches)? For cardiovascular disease, there are many factors that contribute to why experts believe that these mortality rates are rising. Obesity, a major contributing factor to cardiovascular disease, has dramatically been on the rise. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) indicates that over two-thirds of adults and one third of children in the United States are considered obese. These alarming rates are due to poor eating habits, genetics, and little physical activity among other things. The ecological approach investigates the relationship between people and their environment, including their sources of food (McElroy). Portions are larger in America and fast food is more prevalent than it is in other countries around the world. The popularity of these unhealthy sources of food is no doubt contributing to obesity, and as a result cardiovascular disease, in America.

The critical approach looks at the cultural foundation of science and medicine, examining dichotomies that are relevant to the world of medicine. The dichotomy healthy vs. sick relates greatly to cardiovascular disease (Culture of Biomedicine). Through tests, a doctor is able to diagnose you with this illness, which places you in the ‘sick’ category. There is not much grey area when it comes to diagnosis, so patients know where their health stands and are able to take the next steps towards recovery.

The applied approach is research done by medical anthropologists on a specific issue (Applied Medical Anthropology). Researchers have discovered that people are better able to recognize the McDonald’s arches than a picture of Jesus. This fact attests to how ingrained fast food and poor nutrition are in our culture. Culture, both fortunately and unfortunately is something that is difficult to change. There are several large initiatives to reduce childhood obesity, even Michelle Obama is trying to tackle this issue with her “Let’s Move” program after reviewing the research which shows an alarming increase in obesity. This initiative is geared towards educating the public about childhood obesity and its implications (such as cardiovascular disease) as well as urging children and their families to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise (

The experimental approach looks into how people make sense of their own experiences through narrative (Conceptual Approaches). But how is the American public responding to all of these programs? Julie Guthman, who is an associate professor of community studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz, has done extensive research on these issues for her book “Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism”. She has interviewed many about their views on the push to lead a healthier lifestyle to avoid complications such as cardiovascular disease that are associated with obesity. According to Guthman, “Their reaction is, ‘Let me enjoy what I want to eat and stop telling me what to do.’” ( This kind of attitude creates issues for the doctors that are trying to treat both cardiovascular disease and its underlying causes.

The ethnomedical approach examines healing practices, various health models, and linguistics (Conceptual Approaches). According to the Mayo Clinic, these changes include eating a low-fat and low-sodium diet, getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake. These changes to a person’s culture and nature are imperative to healing them (Blerkom). If this is not enough, or the patient is unwilling to cooperate, then prescribing medications is the next step. The dose and type vary and depend on the type of heart disease and the patient’s case-specific information. As a last resort, a doctor will recommend a surgical procedure. Procedures can range from an angioplasty to a heart transplant and the type of surgery depends on the type of cardiovascular disease and the extent of damage done to the patient’s heart.

As I have stated previously, this is a very serious disease that has been sweeping the nation. As hard as it will be, a cultural change is required in order for us to start seeing mortality rates related to cardiovascular disease drop. I think that the experimental approach sheds the most light on why rates of cardiovascular disease have increased. If someone doesn’t want to change habits that are essentially killing them, then there is not much that a doctor can do. Even if another avenue of treatment is explored, the person will encounter the same issues over and over without a lifestyle change.



Works Cited:



“Applied Medical Anthropology”. ANP 204: Intro to Medical Anthropology. Lecture 6.1. 2016. Accessed August 17, 2016.


Bittman, Mark. “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” The New York Times. September 24, 2011. Accessed August 18, 2016.


Blerkom, Linda Miller Van. “Clown Doctors: Shaman Healers of Western Medicine.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 9, no. 4 (December 1995): 462-75. doi:10.1525/maq.1995.9.4.02a00030.


“Conceptual Approaches.” ANP 204 Introduction to Medical Anthropology. Lecture 1.2.2016 Accessed August 18, 2016.


“Culture of Biomedicine”. ANP 204: Intro to Medical Anthropology. Lecture 5.1. 2016. Accessed August 17, 2016.



“Heart Disease.” Treatments and Drugs. Accessed August 18, 2016.


Hennekens, C. H. “Increasing Burden of Cardiovascular Disease : Current Knowledge and Future Directions for Research on Risk Factors.” Circulation 97, no. 11 (March 24, 1998): 1095-102. doi:10.1161/01.cir.97.11.1095.


“Let’s Move.” Let’s Move. Accessed August 18, 2016.


McElroy, Ann. 2007. “Evolutionary and Ecological Perspectives”. Encyclopedia of Media of Medical Anthropology. (31-37).


“Overweight and Obesity Statistics.” Overweight and Obesity Statistics. October 01, 2012. Accessed August 18, 2016.

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