The beliefs and traditions of community members have a profound effect on the health of the community. Traditional beliefs regarding specific health behaviors such as smoking can influence policy, for example, on whether or not funds will be spent on antismoking legislation or on some other matter such as highway infrastructure. These beliefs also influence the types of food, recreational activities, and health services available in a community. Traditional health-related beliefs and practices among different ethnic groups fall into three groups: (1) beliefs that result in no harmful health effects, (2) beliefs that may produce beneficial health outcomes, and (3) beliefs and traditions which have serious, harmful health outcomes.
Societies and cultures throughout the world are replete with traditional health beliefs and practices surrounding fertility. For example, pregnant women in many Asian cultures are advised that if they eat blackberries their baby will have black spots, or that if they eat a twin banana they will give birth to twins. Such ethnocentric beliefs have their foundation in folklore and traditional practices. The Vietnamese traditionally believe that disease is caused by an imbalance of the humoral forces of yin and yang. When ill, Vietnamese commonly use herbal medicines and a set of indigenous folk practices referred to as "southern medicine" in an effort to restore the yin/yang balance. These practices, from the Western viewpoint, were once thought to pose barriers to health. Recent investigations, however, revealed that certain beliefs and practices predicted neither lack of access to, nor underutilization of, health services. In fact, individuals should not be discouraged from placing faith in such beliefs, as they may result in positive health outcomes.
DONALD E. MORISKY, The Gale Group Inc., Macmillan Reference USA, New York,