Numerous studies have suggested and found that culture affects a wide variety of health outcomes. Of particular interest given the rising obesity epidemic are health outcomes that may result, in part, from cultural phenomena influencing behavioral patterns such as diet and exercise. To the extent that culture affects individuals'health behaviors, this class of health conditions is ripe for rigorous cultural analysis. However, most studies of cultural effects on health outcomes have used proxies for culture that fail to approximate a sociologically valid conceptualization of culture. The research proposed here would bring together a team of sociologists expert in the theory and measurement of culture with health researchers expert in the theory and measurement of obesity -a key health outcome with behavioral antecedents.
Two specific aims will bring systematic observational methods to the measurement of place-based culture:
Specific Aim 1 : to assess health-related messages prevalent in the place-based culture of Lenoir County, North Carolina, through a new methodological approach: Systematic Cultural Observation.
Specific Aim 2 : to catalogue the repertoire of interpretations used by Lenoir County residents to understand the messages identified in Specific Aim 1. We propose to adapt the existing Systematic Social Observation (SSO) methodology into a novel approach to measuring culture: Systematic Cultural Observation (SCO). The SCO protocol will involve a four-day, intensive stay by a five-member research team in Lenoir County, NC. We will gather geocoded information about media messages, physical environment, display and availability of healthy food, uses of available physical activity facilities;and social environments for eating and exercise related culture. We will then present observations from the observations to focus groups constituted to evaluate the repertoire of interpretations county residents bring to understanding these cultural messages. This two-phase approach to measuring place-based culture offers the possibility for understanding the ways in which culture moderates and mediates the effects of other individual and social factors on health outcomes, particularly obesity and the intergenerational transfer of obesity.

Public Health Relevance

Numerous studies have suggested and found that culture affects a wide variety of health outcomes, including the burgeoning epidemic of childhood and adult obesity. We propose a novel method for measuring place-based culture with respect to patterns of health beliefs and behaviors related to obesity. This may be useful in understanding and targeting responses to obesogenic beliefs and behaviors.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-AARR-H (52))
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Dresser, Connie M
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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Social Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Chapel Hill
United States
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Perrin, Andrew J; Caren, Neal; Skinner, Asheley C et al. (2016) The unbuilt environment: culture moderates the built environment for physical activity. BMC Public Health 16:1227