Type II diabetes is a disease that has become a major problem around the world and especially in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control, 86 million adults, or one in three U.S. adults, has prediabetes and without weight loss and physical activity about 30 percent will develop type II diabetes within five years. With the growing obesity epidemic in America and the stigma surrounding type II diabetes, it is a disease that can benefit from being seen through the different aspects of medical anthropology.
When taking an ecological and biological anthropological approach towards this disease, it primarily portrays the shortcomings of modern convenience, specifically in this case fast food restaurants. Modern human adaptations and industrialization is described in lecture 2.1 as a major premise of ecological anthropology. In the case of type II diabetes, the industrialization and wide spread convenience of fast food restaurants, which may have initially been perceived as revolutionary for restaurant industry, has proved to be a driving force of the obesity and thus diabetes problem in our country and around the world.
An ethnomedical approach to type II diabetes is especially interesting considering the prevalence of this disease in western culture. When learning about this approach to medical anthropology, it is easier for us as westerners to apply it to other aspects of medicine that we may not understand. For example, better understanding the role of shamans as spiritual healers, as seen in the slideshow, or the effectiveness methods seen in eastern cultures. When looking at type II diabetes however it is a reversed role. It may be seen as a culture bound syndrome to those outside of western culture because of its prevalence with obesity in western society. In this regard, it would mean others moving past stereotypes or assumptions they hold about western culture and learning about the disease. In particular, perhaps examining the role of a nutritionist or dietician in a diabetic’s treatment. To someone in a country where food is scarce the idea of having someone with a job that instructs you on what food not to eat may seem ridiculous. Using an ethnomedical approach would help for better understanding of this job and the disease as a whole.
The illness narratives that type II diabetics can create gives the experimental approach to this disease a lot of value. Allowing a patient to comment and tell their story is important with any disease. It allows for a deeper understanding between the patient, physician, family, as well as others experiencing the disease. We looked an illness narrative of a girl with type I diabetes in week 4 which brings to light many of the constant realities that come with having diabetes. I believe that a narrative of someone with type II diabetes would be just as powerful and perhaps approach the disease in a new light. Type II diabetics often have a weight loss and physical fitness journey with their treatment. Sharing this journey, through a narrative, with other patients of type II diabetes or those who are prediabetic would have a profound effect on this disease.
Because of the association between obesity and type II diabetes there is a stigma that accompanies the disease. The prevalence of type II diabetes as well as the body image norms portrayed by the media cause for the medicalization of being overweight. We examined various examples of the medicalization of normal conditions when exploring the critical anthropological approach. Such as the medicalization of menstruation, a completely normal function of the female body that is now being portrayed as an illness to sell drugs. When examining type II diabetes from this perspective it shows the over exaggerated correlation between lacking the “perfect body” and having type II diabetes that is present in our society. In a general sense, obesity is a large problem and many people who are overweight are prediabetic without even knowing. However medicalization of an unpopular body image to sell pharmaceutical or weight loss supplements should not be tied to a serious disease such as diabetes.
The applied anthropological approach to medical anthropology has the potential to have a large impact on the way we view and treat patients with type II diabetes. It is easy as a healthy individual to wonder why someone with type II diabetes, or who is prediabetic, doesn’t just eat healthier and workout. We see the lifestyle we currently carry out as an easy fix for their problem. However the applied approach teaches us to realize that things aren’t always solved best by outsiders and to truly fix problems it is best to collaborate with those involved. In the global context, we saw the outcome, from the youtube video in week 6, that occurs when people of a village were allowed to make the decision on how money would be spent. To them, lights around their soccer field proved to benefit their community economically and socially far greater than a shower or other project that a westerner may have suggested. Learning to understand the lifestyle and personal struggles of a person with type II diabetes would help to better fit a treatment plan that would have last and be most effective.
Overall, the approaches to medical anthropology examined throughout this course give a holistic view to a disease like type II diabetes. They allow for the examination of a disease to be comprehensive and remove cultural and societal biases that may otherwise interfere with diagnosis and treatment. Medical anthropology contributes to a better understanding of this disease and the impacts it has on its patients all over the world.
“Diabetes Latest.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2014. Accessed August 19, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/features/diabetesfactsheet/.
Department of Anthropology. “Week 3: Lecture 2.” Lecture. anthropology.msu.edu.
Department of Anthropology. “Week 2: Lecture 1.” Lecture. anthropology.msu.edu.
Karim, Taz. Medicalization of Menstruation. anthropology.msu.edu.