Discrimination, cultural consonance, and cell-medated immunity among college students at the University of Alabama

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University of Alabama Libraries

Racial-ethnic inequalities in health are a major public health concern in the United States. Biocultural anthropologists approach the question of health using culture theory and are informed by expertise in human biology. The mechanisms by which social inequalities “get under the skin” and are transduced into health inequalities are of interest to both biocultural anthropologists and those directing efforts to reduce health inequalities. Recent evidence showing racial-ethnic differences in cell-mediated immunity was elaborated upon through research conducted with 71 young college students at the University of Alabama. Drawing on prior ethnographic work on understandings of life trajectory among youth, and on the extensive literature demonstrating associations between perceived discrimination and health outcomes, this study tested two mechanisms for the observed racial-ethnic differences in cell-mediated immunity. Cultural consonance, or the degree to which an individual is congruent with locally valued ways of thinking and behaving, and perceived discrimination were tested for associations with cytomegalovirus (CMV). CMV was used as a proxy measure of cell-mediated immune status. Differences by race-ethnicity in CMV were found. Non-White students had higher levels of CMV than White students. No main effects of cultural consonance or perceived discrimination predicted CMV, but an interaction between these two variables did predict CMV. Future research efforts in racial-ethnic health disparities will consider social address and culture as important factors in population health.

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Cultural anthropology