By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition
What happens when a cultural and political sociologist teams up with health researchers? Answer: some really fascinating work and advancement of how we think about the influence of culture on health.
Meet Andrew Perrin, Ph.D. He is a professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
While his work focuses mostly on “what people need to know, be and do to make democracy work”, his family has opened up the opportunity to share his expertise with the public health arena. Does culture influence health? If so, how, and to what extent?
Dr. Perrin suggests that although the public health and health communication world may be able to measure certain aspects of culture well, there is a lack of breadth and depth of conceptualizing culture. This could mean we, public health and communication groups, are missing or misinterpreting a big piece of the health puzzle. He offered context of the contemporary synthesis of culture as presented by Johnson-Hanks and colleagues. A cyclical interaction between culture in the world and culture in our mind influences our individual and collective decisions and actions, but how can we robustly measure this?
Fortunately, Dr. Perrin and an interdisciplinary crew are working to develop tools to measure culture in the world and culture in the mind within the context of obesity. Once measured, they will work to interpret the effects of culture on health. One project looks to explain variations and health outcomes in a county in North Carolina using a combination of geocoded photographs (culture in the world) and focus groups (culture in the mind). Results for this are forthcoming. Another project looked at obesogenic behaviors and stigma in children’s movies. You may or may not be surprised to learn that unhealthy behaviors are represented more than healthy behaviors, and movies contain messages that encourage weight-related teasing or bullying. For more information and results about this, review the paper on Pass the Popcorn.
Thanks to Dr. Perrin for sharing his time and expertise with our class! He highlighted the value interdisciplinary teams bring to thinking about problems in a more holistic manner that could ultimately benefit the public’s health.
You can learn more about Dr. Perrin’s work at his website.