Dressler, W.W. and J.R. Bindon. (1997) Social status, social context and arterial blood pressure. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 102:55-66.

ABSTRACT: As social change and economic development have proceeded, the prevalence of chronic diseases, especially cardiovascular diseases, has increased in the developing world. In part this is due to the adoption of diets and other health behaviors characteristic of industrialized nations; in part it is a function of changing social and economic circumstances. In this paper, we describe the development and testing of a model designed to account for social and economic effects on cardiovascular disease risk. The model incorporates the fact that global economic processes have made a lifestyle characterized by the consumption of Euroamerican material goods and information a basis for the assignment of social status in local communities. But economic change at the local level is rarely sufficient to provide a foundation for individuals' statue aspirations. Hence, many individuals attempt to maintain a lifestyle inconsistent with their economic standing, a variable we term lifestyle incongruity. Here we describe how this factor is associated with higher blood pressure in a variety of settings and also how the effects of lifestyle incongruity can be modified in local contexts by social class and social role processes.

This latter process, contextual modification, is illustrated by data from American Samoa. In this example, the association of lifestyle incongruity with blood pressure is examined in 30 male household heads and 26 spouses. After an examination of Samoan ethnography focused attention on the importance of age and gender differences as defining social contexts of intracultural variation, the model was modified to assess interactions between age and gender as they affect the association of lifestyle incongruity and blood pressure. Lifestyle incongruity is strongly associated with higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure for the younger household heads, minimally associated with blood pressure for older household heads, and only slightly associated with the blood pressure of their spouses. The regression coefficients for the lifestyle incongruity by age by sex interaction term was significant at P c 0.01 for both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The consistency of these results with expectations based on the ethnographic record is emphasized in the interpretation.

We feel that the lifestyle incongruity model represents an empirically successful attempt to link global political-economic processes, local social structure, and biological outcomes.

Full text pdf available upon request