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Surprising Science

Health Is a Social Construct

Though medical evaluations are supposedly based on objective measurements, cultural plays a role in what we consider normal behavior, and thus what become normal medical readings.

What’s the Latest Development?

When patients came to Dr. Ricky Fishman’s clinic complaining about acute back pain, but insisting they could tolerate the piercing headaches, he began to wonder if our culture of long working hours wasn’t redefining what constitutes acceptable health in a negative way. “Headaches have become so typical that their significance has shifted from pathology to nuisance, less a diagnosis than a natural byproduct of modern living. The norm gradually becomes normal.”

What’s the Big Idea?

How do we determine that readings from modern medical equipment like EMGs, MRIs, and C-T Scans have something important to tell us about our health? Is it simply that a statistical average is taken as a base for what constitutes health? What if that base is faulty? In other words, what if certain bad habits have become so integrated into a culture that ‘normal’ is actually ‘unhealthy’? “Norms and normals describe our averageness, our body fat indices, and our lives in a socially constructed universe,” says Dr. Fishman.

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