Culture and health

multiple hands holding globe by monisha pushparaj by Kathleen S.

Cultural traditions and the unique beliefs of a society play a role in one’s health.  You can’t help belonging to the culture around you. Whether overtly or subtly you will soak up the world view of the culture you inhabit.

Your culture’s beliefs will influence you in many ways. From our perspective of health care, your health and oral health will be impacted by those beliefs. Sometimes these beliefs will be positive and sometimes not. The phrase ‘old wives tale’ best describes some of the less beneficial views of many cultures.

Families have been the primary unit in societies that pass on these beliefs. So our habits, for good or bad, start at home.

In Africa, the Middle East and Asia, tight knit families are common.  The presence of relatives helps shape the attitude and behavior of children. Extended families offer greater supervision for children and transmit their values and beliefs to them easily.

In more urban and developed countries, it may be quite a struggle to raise children with your own beliefs, since families are nuclear in size and far more insular. Yet, the cultural values, both good and bad, seep down to the kids via the ever present internet connectivity.

Food and dietary habits have a significant role when it comes to health.  Since we prepare food and eat in the same kitchen, we develop our eating habits from home.  The western diet consists of refined foods which can increase the risk for cavities.  The average Canadian eats the equivalent of 40 kg of sugar each year (Canadian Dental Association).  The prolonged intake of processed foods and lack of physical activity leads to a greater risk of obesity and heart disease (WHO).

In Japan and Scandinavia, a variety of fish is the staple food. They have high protein content and omega-3 acids which aid in heart and brain health.  These nutrients contain calcium amongst others which offers anti-cavity benefit and helps with bone health.  However, the use of salt to preserve fish has been linked to an increase of stomach cancer (Canadian Cancer Society).

Vegetarianism consists of a diet free of meat. Some forms of vegetarianism may not take any foods of animal origin including milk and eggs.  Having mainly vegetables and fruits is good for the body with all the vitamins and nutrients they provide.  However, lack of dairy intake may result in Vitamin B12 deficiency which may lead to anemia, Crohn’s disease and other immune system disorders (WebMD).

In today’s society, we can’t help ourselves and give into food habits that may be unhealthy.  We may also not be able to give up what we have learned to eat since we were little.  Balancing what we eat and paired with physical activity, is invaluable in prolonging health.

Stay tuned to the next blog where we will talk more about traditional health beliefs in other cultures.

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