Cross-cultural variation in blood pressure: A quantitative analysis of the relationships of blood pressure to cultural characteristics, salt consumption and body weight

Ingrid Waldron, Michele Nowotarski, Miriam Freimer, James P. Henry, Nancy Post, Charles Witten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This study has analyzed the relationships of cross-cultural variation in blood pressure to cultural characteristics, salt consumption and body weight. The data used were blood pressures for adults in 84 groups, ratings of cultural characteristics (based on anthropological data and made by raters who had no knowledge of the blood pressure data) and, where available, salt consumption and body mass index (weight/height2). Blood pressures were higher and the slopes of blood pressure with age were greater in groups which had greater involvement in a money economy, more economic competition, more contact with people of different culture or beliefs, and more unfulfilled aspirations for a return to traditional beliefs and values. Blood pressures were also higher in groups for which the predominant family type was a nuclear or father-absent family, as opposed to an extended family. For Negroes, groups who were descended from slaves had higher blood pressures than other groups. The correlations between blood pressures and involvement in a money economy were substantial and significant even after controlling for level of salt consumption and, for men, also after controlling for body mass index. For men there were also significant partial correlations between blood pressure and salt consumption, controlling for type of economy. For women there were significant partial correlations between blood pressure and body mass index, controlling for type of economy. In conclusion, cross-cultural variation in blood pressure appears to be due to multiple factors. One contributory factor appears to be psychosocial stress due to cultural disruption, including the disruption of cooperative relationships and traditional cultural patterns which frequently occurs during economic modernization. In addition, both the protective effects of very low salt consumption in some groups and differences in body weight appear to contribute to cross-cultural variation in blood pressure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)419-430
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Volume16
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 1982
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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