Type 2 diabetes is rapidly becoming a worldwide epidemic as populations adopt modernized or Westernized lifestyles. Evolutionary evidence for the selective advantage of diabetes thrifty genotypes and phenotypes predisposes humans to the deleterious and diabetogenic effects of contemporary culture. Recent dietary changes are characterized by an abundance of calorically dense, sugary and fatty foods with low fiber content. In addition, labor-saving, energy-efficient daily activity patterns reduce caloric needs and energy expenditure. The result is a high prevalence of obesity, insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, and other physiological abnormalities comprising Syndrome X.
Medical anthropologists have investigated the medical, social, and cultural responses to diabetes among ethnic groups in the United States and Canada where diabetes is in high prevalence. Less attention has been paid to other parts of the world where diabetes is just now becoming a chronic disease of epidemic proportions. The topics reviewed in this entry include: diabetes diagnosis and epidemiology; descriptions of dietary beliefs, consumption patterns, and subsistence activities; traditional medical system beliefs, attitudes, and healthcare patterns; problems of diagnosis and treatment encountered within the biomedical healthcare system; and the development of educational and community-based diabetes intervention programs. The research and publication trends documented by Weidman (2001) clearly indicate that medical anthropologists will continue to respond to the increasing prevalence and growing cultural disruption of type 2 diabetes with theoretical, methodological, and applied research.
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