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The Elephant in the Room: The Invisibility of Poverty in Research on Type 2 Diabetes

  • Author(s): Chaufan, Claudia, MD, PhD
  • Weitz, PhD, Rose
  • et al.
Abstract

Over two hundred years of anecdotal, epidemiological, and experimental evidence indicate that poverty breeds disease. This holds true for type 2 diabetes, which both in the United States and other developed nations disproportionately occurs, cripples, and kills among the poor. In this article we examine rhetorical strategies used in 30 journal articles indexed under type 2 diabetes and poverty. As we show, poverty is rarely highlighted in this literature as a causal factor. Instead, explanations for diabetes among poor people overwhelmingly emphasize features of patients—their biology, behaviors, psychology, culture, or other “risk factors”—while ignoring, reframing or neglecting the links between poverty and disease. By so doing, these discursive strategies naturalize higher rates of diabetes among poor persons, legitimize relations of domination in the larger society, and encourage only research projects, treatment practices and health and social policies that do not challenge existing social relations. We discuss the implications of these discursive practices for medical research and care, and for social and public health policies.

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