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“Epigenetics and the Embodiment of Race”

Kuzawa and Sweet’s article emphasizes the role of how environmental factors play a crucial part in determining birth weight outcomes and the susceptibility to developing a disease. As its title suggests, the article’s focus is to present research showing how, on average, African Americans have higher rates of health disparities, particularly cardiovascular disease, than the population of whites. Without a doubt, genetics partakes in creating biological changes that either enhances or deteriorates one’s health, but studies have shown that “genetic inheritance accounts for only a fraction of the variance in birth weight” and health (4). The authors of the article stressed the importance of how “social influences can become embodied” (2). Since race can have an influence on an individual’s environment (i.e. socioeconomic status, level of education, and stress level), awareness of and responsibility for the racial health disparities are highly suggested. Ultimately, after reading the article, the reader becomes aware of how external stressors can directly affect the quality of life.

As I was reading, I was taken aback when I read about a study which concluded that “foreign-born African American were found to have a birth weight distribution nearly identical to that of US whites” rather than African Americans newborns who were born in the United States (8). What I found more shocking was that as the generation of the original ‘foreigners’ continued to be born in the United States, there was a shift in the birth weight distribution which began to “resemble that of their US ethnic counterparts” (9). With this in mind, I began researching about how a change in environmental factors may have caused a disturbance in the lives of possibly other racial groups considered to be part of the minority. I was highly intrigued in learning more about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders because I have noticed that even though they may account of a small percentage (4.0% in 1999) of the population in America and have shown a migration trend much later than other racial groups, they show economic success, achievements, and good citizenship, suggested by such indicators as low crime rates and a low rate of welfare dependency. In 1996, it was recorded that “among the different racial groups, AAPIs have the lowest mortality rates from heart disease and all cancers” (same link). If I were to conduct more research on this particular group, I would like to learn if these claims still remain the same a generation later. As the number of AAPIs inAmerica continues to increase, if a change showing a higher mortality rate is present, then I would conclude that a contributing factor may be the rapid lifestyle changes and adapting to the American society.

In addition, I have included a link of a segment that was aired on the television show “The Dr’s” discussing multicultural health risks. The experts delve into how lifestyle changes and being knowledgeable can go a long way in maintaining good health. As one of these speakers noted” “You don’t need to have genetics rule you” (3:41).

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One response to ““Epigenetics and the Embodiment of Race”

  1. frannixoxo ⋅

    As I was reading this article, as much as birth weight and additional geographical areas play an integral role in the overall prevalence of CVD, I still believe that the article failed to mention what I feel is obvious in explaining this problem, the role that finances play into being healthy and the prevalence of CVD. There are families in South Central whose only form of accessing food is going to the local market on the corner where the vegetables available are poor quality. These same families are trapped in this community because of their inability to afford transportation to obtain quality food and the children are unable to have the level of safety to play outdoors limiting exercising opportunities. As much as there are genetic factors and prenatal origins, it is also essential to acknowledge the struggle and the cycle that traps people to sadly, disease and eventual death.
    -Frania Mendoza

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