Cultural Differences in Health Beliefs

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Yoga is believed to offer a holistic, mind-body connection for improved health.
Yoga is believed to offer a holistic, mind-body connection for improved health. (Image: Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

An individual's culture significantly influences health beliefs. Religion plays a huge role in a person's perspective. As more and more people travel all over the world and move to other countries, health care practitioners recognize a need to better understand different cultural health beliefs to treat patients. Different attitudes about doctors, medicine, illness and death challenge health care providers to customize treatment to each patient.

Religious Influences

Whether you are an American, born and bred, or from another country, religion plays a large role in health beliefs. For example, Buddhism emphasizes dignity and promotes an attitude of saving face. This type of conditioning causes many Chinese people to refuse to admit health problems that would be perceived to bring shame to the family, like mental health problems. Another influence on Chinese health beliefs relates to the idea of karma. Patients are often reluctant to discuss illness or death for fear the conversation creates bad karma. As the third largest religion, Hinduism impacts the health beliefs of millions of people. The Hindu culture believes that self control and meditation are critical for good health.

Trust and Propriety Issues

Depending on the culture and an individual's personal experiences, trust can be an issue preventing individuals from seeking out health care options outside the family. In the Latino society, people turn to the family first for medical help. The use of home remedies is prevalent. African-Americans are often mistrustful of traditional medicine and mainstream health care providers.

Cultural differences about what is appropriate also varies widely. In the Filipino, Iranian, Chinese and Mexican culture, it is considered insensitive to tell a patient about a poor prognosis. The belief is that bad news would cause undue stress for the patient. In these countries, it is customary to tell the family first and let them decide if they will tell the family member.

Family Values

The family plays a different role in many cultures and is often a big player in health care. As mentioned earlier, Latinos turn to their families first for health care and are often reluctant to visit doctor. Family plays an equally important role in the Native American community's health beliefs, as they reach out to help each other with health challenges. Healing ceremonies are commonplace in Native American circles and used to bring the family and community together.

Pharmaceutical and Home Remedies

While western culture embraces the use of pharmaceuticals, other cultures are more likely to use home remedies. The Chinese, Vietnamese and Latino cultures are more likely to use food and herbal remedies than pharmaceuticals. There are many misunderstandings about medication between different cultures. For instance, Cambodians falsely equate the size of a pill with the potency. Older Chinese often believe that Western medicine is too strong and will often take only half of the prescribed amount.

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