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Influences on Health: Social, Cultural & Environmental

Instructor: Veronika Polozkova

Masters in International Health. Lesson development experience on different levels from basic alimentary school to academic master level. Languages: English, Dutch, Russian

Have you ever noticed that even though you have a healthy lifestyle, sometimes your surroundings have a big effect on your health outcomes? Learn about how social norms, cultural beliefs, and environmental conditions can impact our health.

What Influences Your Health?

You probably already know that health is affected by individual behavior, genetics and treatment. But did you know that science also shows that there are more determinants that impact health related behavior and health outcomes? Social norms, cultural beliefs and environmental conditions are determinants that all have a huge effect on our health in general, and often influence our lifestyles and medical treatment.

Social Impacts on Health

Social norms are behaviors and attitudes that are widely accepted or encouraged by a particular society, and these norms can affect our behavior and health. People are sensitive to peer pressure and tend to form their norms based on socially accepted standards. In many societies, girls with thin bodies are perceived as more attractive than others. This can contribute to extreme dieting and increase the risk of conditions like anorexia. Societal pressure to be thin can lead to low self-esteem and even psychological problems in girls. Another example of how social norms can negatively affect health is alcohol consumption. Young adults are often pressured to consume alcohol to be perceived as 'cool' by their friends.

Not all social norms are health-harming. The recent 'fitspo' trend centers around people on social media sharing photos of toned, muscular people. The goal is to inspire people to get fit and lead healthier lives. However, like the concept of 'thin', 'fitspo' sometimes causes people to have unhealthy thoughts or behaviors.

Social norms can be created within families too. If no one in your family smokes, then you are raised with a non-smoking norm and are less likely to start smoking. Cities and states have passed bans on smoking in public places as well, causing some smokers to feel more and more like 'outsiders.' Even if you feel the need to smoke, you know you will miss out on the fun inside. This might make you feel that smoking is socially unacceptable and even want to skip a cigarette.

Cultural Impacts on Health

Traditions, religion, beliefs, and other cultural practices make up your culture. How can a tradition influence our health, though? For some, going to the doctor may not be culturally acceptable because Western medicine is not the norm. You might skip a doctor's appointment and try to heal yourself with herbal remedies, which may be less effective. This can prevent you from getting the treatment you need and may endanger your health if you have a serious medical condition, such as cancer.

In some cultures, women may be reluctant to receive treatment from male doctors due to religious concerns. This may cause them to delay seeking treatment, refuse examinations, or choose not to be seen at all. If they are already at a doctor's office or hospital, they may choose to wait until a female doctor can see them. In an emergency situation, this may have severe consequences for her health.

In some cultures, treating illness with herbs is the norm.
health, culture

There are also cultural values that promote healthy lifestyles. Daily meditation, common in some cultures and religions, has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health. In some cultures in Latin America and Africa, 'curvy' women are perceived as healthier and more attractive. In a reverse of other global trends, this cultural norm encourages girls to maintain a healthy weight.

Environmental Conditions

Our environment impacts our health in many ways. Living in a city with fitness clubs or in a suburb with great sidewalks can motivate you to exercise more often. The restaurants, shops, sidewalks and other institutions in our environment can contribute to a healthy lifestyle or derail our efforts to be healthy. Think about it:

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