What is Medical Anthropology?

The Stanford University School of Anthropology defines medical anthropology as the study of how health and illness are shaped, experienced, and understood in light of global, historical, and political forces.

In a clinical setting, medical anthropology gives us a template based on human evolution to recommend lifestyle changes that positively affect our lives and our health. For example, compared to a hunter-gatherer society, it is fair to say that we are different from people that lived millions of years ago, but that we are also somewhat similar. This approach takes what is healthy and useful from a hunter-gatherer society and applies it to the current day.

An example of this concept is movement. Today, the majority of us no longer move frequently enough to benefit our health. We are mostly sedentary and sit for several hours at a time. By looking at the way of life of a hunter-gatherer society, we can clearly see that one of the ways they maintained health is through constant movement – today we call this exercise. It is important to keep in mind that medical anthropology is a framework – framework being the operative word – to apply to modern life and the goal is to take what is useful and discard what is not.

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