Where culture meets genetics: Exploring Latina immigrants’ lay beliefs of disease inheritance

Katie Fiallos, Jill Owczarzak, Joann Bodurtha, Sonia Beatriz Margarit, Lori Erby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


As medical genetic services become a standard part of healthcare, it will become increasingly important to understand how individuals interpret and use genetic information. Exploring lay beliefs of disease inheritance that differ along cultural lines is one research strategy. The purpose of this study was to describe conceptualizations of disease inheritance held by members of the Latina immigrant population in the United States. Semi-structured interviews were employed to gather qualitative, exploratory data from 20 Latina immigrant women. All interviews were conducted in Spanish, and thematic analysis was used to analyze interview transcripts. Demographic and acculturation data were also collected and analyzed. The final sample was diverse in age, time lived in the United States, country of birth, and education level. From participant interviews, the authors identified one dominant model of disease inheritance to which most participants ascribed as well as two non-dominant models. The main model was characterized by a focus on the ability to modify an underlying disease risk, especially in the case of hereditary predisposition to common complex disease. Of the non-dominant models, one focused on genetic disease as extraordinary and less modifiable while the other placed less emphasis on the role of genes in health and greater emphasis on non-genetic factors. Across these models, participants expressed their uncertainty about their understanding of genetics. Many of the themes that arose from the interviews, including uncertainty in their own understanding of genetics, were similar to those seen in studies among other populations. Importantly, participants in this study demonstrated a lack of genetic fatalism, which may allay fears that explaining the role of genetics in common health conditions will reduce uptake of positive health behaviors. These findings have practice implications for healthcare providers communicating genetic information to Latina immigrants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112179
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Culture
  • Genetics
  • Immigrants
  • Latino/hispanic
  • Lay beliefs of inheritance
  • Public understanding of genetics
  • US

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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