Summary

The cross-cultural study of cardiovascular disease risk has been remarkably productive for building theory within medical anthropology and in anthropology writ large. As Caudill (1958) pointed out many years ago, disease can be used to trace the fault lines within sociocul-tural systems. As such, the study of blood pressure cross-culturally has provided insight into how culture and social structure come together to generate obstacles and barriers, and to create supports and resources, for persons in their everyday lives. Furthermore, medical anthropologists studying cardiovascular disease have been sensitive to world systems and how macro-level change can have measurable consequences at the level of the individual and her health status.

In one sense, research in this area has come full circle. Early researchers such as Scotch and Cassel interpreted their results in terms of a culture theory emphasizing shared meaning, and how inconsistencies or incongruities in meaning could lead to stress and disease. Later researchers, applying the stress model, were able to identify factors at the individual level and to more directly test the importance of those factors. The importance of culture in the process was not lost, but continued a role as defining context and an interpretive framework for more specific findings.

More recent work, taking advantage of innovations in culture theory and research methods, has been able to empirically demonstrate how the cultural is linked to the individual, which in turn is linked to the biological. This direction in research is likely to be productive in terms both of building culture theory, and in terms of uncovering new dimensions of human health.

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