Variations in 'culture' are often invoked to explain cross-national variations in health, but formal analyses of this relation are scarce. We studied the relation between three sets of cultural values and a wide range of health behaviours and health outcomes in Europe. Cultural values were measured according to Inglehart's two, Hofstede's six, and Schwartz's seven dimensions. Data on individual and collective health behaviours (30 indicators of fertility-related behaviours, adult lifestyles, use of preventive services, prevention policies, health care policies, and environmental policies) and health outcomes (35 indicators of general health and of specific health problems relating to fertility, adult lifestyles, prevention, health care, and violence) in 42 European countries around the year 2010 were extracted from harmonized international data sources. Multivariate regression analysis was used to relate health behaviours to value orientations, controlling for socioeconomic confounders. In univariate analyses, all scales are related to health behaviours and most scales are related to health outcomes, but in multivariate analyses Inglehart[U+05F3]s 'self-expression' (versus 'survival') scale has by far the largest number of statistically significant associations. Countries with higher scores on 'self-expression' have better outcomes on 16 out of 30 health behaviours and on 19 out of 35 health indicators, and variations on this scale explain up to 26% of the variance in these outcomes in Europe. In mediation analyses the associations between cultural values and health outcomes are partly explained by differences in health behaviours. Variations in cultural values also appear to account for some of the striking variations in health behaviours between neighbouring countries in Europe (Sweden and Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and Estonia and Latvia).This study is the first to provide systematic and coherent empirical evidence that differences between European countries in health behaviours and health outcomes may partly be determined by variations in culture. Paradoxically, a shift away from traditional 'survival' values seems to promote behaviours that increase longevity in high income countries.

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Health & Place
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Mackenbach, J. (2014). Cultural values and population health. Health & Place, 28, 116–132. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2014.04.004