An Integrated Approach to Diabetes Prevention: Anthropology, Public Health, and Community Engagement

Qual Rep. 2013;18:1-22.


Diabetes is an enormous public health problem with particular concern within Hispanic communities and among individuals with low wealth. However, attempts to expand the public health paradigm to include social determinants of health rarely include analysis of social and contextual factors considered outside the purview of health research. As a result, conceptualization of the dynamics of diabetes health disparities remains shallow. We argue that using a holistic anthropological lens has the potential to offer insights regarding the nature of the interface between broader social determinants, health outcomes and health disparity. In a primarily Hispanic, immigrant community in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we conducted a mixed methods study that integrates an anthropological lens with a community engaged research design. Our data from focus groups, interviews, a survey and blood sampling demonstrate the need to conceptualize social determinants more broadly, more affectively and more dynamically than often considered. These results highlight a need to include, in addition to individual-level factors that are traditionally the focus of public health and more innovative structural factors that are currently in vogue, an in-depth, qualitative exploration of local context, social environment, and culture, and their interactions and intersectionality, as key factors when considering how to achieve change. The discussion presented here offers a model for culturally situated and contextually relevant scientific research. This model achieves the objectives and goals of both public health and anthropology while providing valuable insights and mechanisms for addressing health disparity such as that which exists in relation to diabetes among Hispanic immigrants in New Mexico. Such an approach has implications for how research projects are designed and conceptualizing social determinants more broadly. The discussion presented provides insights with relevance for both disciplines.

Keywords: Anthropological Lens; Community Engagement; Diabetes Prevention; Health Disparity; Hispanic Immigrants; Integrated Approach.