Why Culture Matters in Health Interventions: Lessons From HIV/AIDS Stigma and NCDs

Collins O. Airhihenbuwa, Chandra L. Ford, Juliet I. Iwelunmor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theories about health behavior are commonly used in public health and often frame problems as ascribed or related to individuals' actions or inaction. This framing suggests that poor health occurs because individuals are unable or unwilling to heed preventive messages or recommended treatment actions. The recent United Nations call for strategies to reduce the global disease burden of noncommunicable diseases like diabetes requires a reassessment of individual-based approaches to behavior change. We argue that public health and health behavior intervention should focus more on culture than behavior to achieve meaningful and sustainable change resulting in positive health outcomes. To change negative health behaviors, one must first identify and promote positive health behaviors within the cultural logic of its contexts. To illustrate these points, we discuss stigma associated with obesity and human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome. We conclude that focusing on positive behaviors and sustaining cultural and personal transformations requires a culturally grounded approach to public health interventions, such as that provided by the PEN-3 model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)78-84
Number of pages7
JournalHealth Education and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2014


  • PEN-3 model
  • behavioral theories
  • culture
  • global health
  • obesity
  • social determinants
  • stigma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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