Anthropology Faculty Publications and Presentations

Culture and Dehydration: A Comparative Study of Caída de la Mollera (Fallen Fontanel) in Three Latino Populations

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A sunken soft-spot or fontanel is a sign for dehydration in infants. Around the world, folk illnesses, such as caída de la mollera in some Latin American cultures, often incorporate this sign as a hallmark of illness, but may or may not incorporate re-hydration therapies in treatment strategies. This report describes a study of lay descriptions of causes, symptoms, and treatments for caída de la mollera in three diverse Latin American populations. A mixed-methods approach was used. Representative community-based samples were interviewed in rural Guatemala, Guadalajara, Mexico, and Edinburgh, Texas, with a 132 item questionnaire on the causes, susceptibility, symptoms, and therapies for caída de la mollera. Cultural consensus analysis was used to estimate community beliefs about caída. Interviews conducted in rural Guatemala (n = 60), urban Mexico (n = 62), and rural Texas on the Mexican border (n = 61) indicated consistency in thematic elements within and among these three diverse communities. The high degree of consistency in the illness explanatory models indicated shared beliefs about caída de la mollera in each of the communities and a core model shared across communities. However, an important aspect of the community beliefs was that rehydration therapies were not widely endorsed. The consistency in explanatory models in such diverse communities, as well as the high degree of recognition and experience with this illness, may facilitate communication between community members, and health care providers/public health intervention planners to increase use of rehydration therapies for caída de la mollera. Recommendations for culturally informed and respectful approaches to clinical communication are provided.


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J Immigrant Minority Health