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Progress’s Canaries: Race, Genetics, Epidemiology, and the Changing Nature of Chronic Disease

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Abstract:

In 1965 a group of researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) made a startling discovery: the prevalence of adult-onset (now Type 2) diabetes among the Pima or Akimel O’odham of Arizona was 15 times the national rate. The resulting complications—renal disease, retinopathy, neuropathy, and cardiovascular disease—were equally prevalent and horrific. By the 1990s, the Akimel O’odham had become the face of the world’s diabetes epidemic. A leading epidemiologist, Peter H. Bennett, suggested that diabetes among the Pima was “a clear example of genetic-environment interaction,” an explanation that now dominates how researchers and clinicians address a wide range of chronic diseases within diverse populations. But what were the origins of this explanation how has it shaped popular and scientific understandings of the origins and consequences diseases like diabetes? In this paper, I focus on how postwar biomedical scientists seemingly “discovered” chronic disease, notably diabetes, among supposedly “primitive” peoples and minorities within the United States and across the globe once considered immune to the ravages of modernity. Drawing upon oral histories, archival records, and biomedical research, my paper explores how the confluence of environmentalism, genetics, racial discrimination, and concern over health inequities created new ideas about chronic disease etiology, epidemiology, and treatment. Anxieties over progress and its penalties—measured in declining health despite advances against infectious diseases—were at the root of this shift. Rethinking chronic disease as environmental history reopens discussions on the origins and benefits of the so-called “epidemiological transition” where diseases of lifestyle and longevity, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, eclipse old infectious scourges, such as smallpox and influenza within North America and across planet. As I conclude, environmental history is now well poised to move beyond toxicants and infectious diseases to explore a hallmark of modern life: chronic disease.
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Association:
Name: ASEH Conference – San Francisco
URL:
http://aseh.net


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p680302_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Klingle, Matthew. "Progress’s Canaries: Race, Genetics, Epidemiology, and the Changing Nature of Chronic Disease" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Conference – San Francisco, Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel, San Francisco, California, <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p680302_index.html>

APA Citation:

Klingle, M. "Progress’s Canaries: Race, Genetics, Epidemiology, and the Changing Nature of Chronic Disease" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Conference – San Francisco, Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel, San Francisco, California <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p680302_index.html

Publication Type: Panel Paper
Abstract: In 1965 a group of researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) made a startling discovery: the prevalence of adult-onset (now Type 2) diabetes among the Pima or Akimel O’odham of Arizona was 15 times the national rate. The resulting complications—renal disease, retinopathy, neuropathy, and cardiovascular disease—were equally prevalent and horrific. By the 1990s, the Akimel O’odham had become the face of the world’s diabetes epidemic. A leading epidemiologist, Peter H. Bennett, suggested that diabetes among the Pima was “a clear example of genetic-environment interaction,” an explanation that now dominates how researchers and clinicians address a wide range of chronic diseases within diverse populations. But what were the origins of this explanation how has it shaped popular and scientific understandings of the origins and consequences diseases like diabetes? In this paper, I focus on how postwar biomedical scientists seemingly “discovered” chronic disease, notably diabetes, among supposedly “primitive” peoples and minorities within the United States and across the globe once considered immune to the ravages of modernity. Drawing upon oral histories, archival records, and biomedical research, my paper explores how the confluence of environmentalism, genetics, racial discrimination, and concern over health inequities created new ideas about chronic disease etiology, epidemiology, and treatment. Anxieties over progress and its penalties—measured in declining health despite advances against infectious diseases—were at the root of this shift. Rethinking chronic disease as environmental history reopens discussions on the origins and benefits of the so-called “epidemiological transition” where diseases of lifestyle and longevity, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, eclipse old infectious scourges, such as smallpox and influenza within North America and across planet. As I conclude, environmental history is now well poised to move beyond toxicants and infectious diseases to explore a hallmark of modern life: chronic disease.


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