Moving from Ethnography to Epidemiology

Lessons Learned in Appalachia

Published in: Annals of Human Biology, v. 36, no. 3, May 2009, 248-260

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2008

by Ryan Andrew Brown, Jennifer Kuzara, William E Copeland, E. Jane Costello, Adrian Angold, Carol M Worthman

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BACKGROUND: Anthropologists are beginning to translate insights from ethnography into tools for population studies that assess the role of culture in human behavior, biology, and health. AIM: The authors describe several lessons learned in the creation and administration of an ethnographically-based instrument to assess the life course perspectives of Appalachian youth, the Life Trajectory Interview for Youth (LTI-Y). Then, the authors explore the utility of the LTI-Y in predicting depressive symptoms, controlling for prior depressive symptoms and severe negative life events throughout the life course. SUBJECTS AND METHODS: In a sample of 319 youths (190 White, 129 Cherokee), the authors tested the association between depressive symptoms and two domains of the LTI-Y - life course barriers and milestones. Longitudinal data on prior depressive symptoms and negative life events were included in the model. RESULTS: The ethnographically-based scales of life course barriers and milestones were associated with unique variance in depressive symptoms, together accounting for 11% of the variance in this outcome. CONCLUSION: When creating ethnographically-based instruments, it is important to strike a balance between detailed, participant-driven procedures and the analytic needs of hypothesis testing. Ethnographically-based instruments have utility for predicting health outcomes in longitudinal studies.

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