The Breakdown of Mainstream Culture and the Rise of Diabetes

Patient Expert

The real cause of the diabetes epidemic in the Western world may be separation from our cultural roots. The evidence is in plain sight, but generally ignored.

Those of us in the modern world who have diabetes are equally subject to the breakdown of culture as the indigenous peoples of the world whose cultural ties broke when they came into contact with the modern world. "The Breakdown of Indigenous Culture and the Rise of Diabetes" showed three examples of that collective trauma.

For us, what caused our cultural separation is different from what caused that of indigenous peoples. But the effects are the same. And those effects include diabetes.

Individuals are growing more and more isolated from each other and therefore from cultural norms, expectations. Those norms weren't always right, of course, but they gave us a sense of belonging and of the right actions to take.

  • Family breakdown and diabetes

The first effect of of the cultural breakdown in the Western world was the extended family morphing into the nuclear family as the basic social unit. Now we are well into the process of the morphing from the nuclear family to the isolated individual. Like ever more Americans, I have lived alone most of my adult life -- and I am the first member of my family to have diabetes. More than one-fourth of Americans were living alone in 2013, up from about 5 percent in the 1920s, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's most recent population survey.

Even when we are in the presence of others we are becoming ever more isolated. Many of us are focusing on the content of our smart phones. Have you looked around your restaurants and coffee shops lately? Often I see each member of a so-called couple engrossed in his or her digital device rather than the other person at the table.

  • Poverty and diabetes

Researchers recognize being poor as a cause of diabetes. But poverty itself stems from the breakdown of culture. In traditional cultures and in the recent past of the modern world the family served as a safety net.

Recent research shows that poverty can double and even triple the risk of type 2 diabetes. "Subjects who lived more often in poverty during the 12-year study period had a 41 percent greater chance of developing the disease," according to "Poverty a Leading Cause of Type 2 Diabetes, Studies Say."

  • Urbanization and diabetes

Rapid urbanization around the world has fueled the diabetes epidemic, writes Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health in "Globalization of Diabetes." Another research report, "Urban rural differences in prevalence of self-reported diabetes in India," shows that the proportion of people in that country who live in urban areas have more than twice the rate of diabetes as those in rural areas.

Because we have lost touch with the standards and values of our parents and other elders we are susceptible to the sales pitches of the scammers and the recommendation of the day by the so-called professional nutritionists. Our parents and other elders certainly weren't right about everything. But they seem to me to have a better, albeit seat of the pants understanding of good nutrition than the experts have had for the past 40 or 50 years. They also wouldn't have allowed us to eat all the junk food on the shelves now.

Americans take some justifiable pride in what we call the melting pot. But the forging of a common culture here inevitably led to the lost of our inherited cultures with far too little to replace it. The melting pot doesn't work the way that proud Americans think it does. We don't melt our various cultures into a unified culture. We melt it away.

This is the issue at hand. My attempt to show the solution for those of us living in the modern West follows.

  • See more helpful articles:

Is Diabetes the Effect of Traumatized Cultures?

Type 2 Diabetes Attributed to Poverty and Poor Health

Embrace Diabetes Support Groups for a Healthy Lifestyle