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Soc Sci Med. 1998 Nov; 47(9): 1263-6.

Mexican use of lead in the treatment of empacho: community, clinic, and longitudinal patterns.

Baer RD, Garcia de Alba J, Leal RM, Plascencia Campos AR, Goslin N.

Department of Anthropology, University of South Florida, Tampa 33620, USA.

This paper discusses research designed to investigate community, clinic, and longitudinal patterns in use of lead as a treatment for empacho, a folk illness manifest by gastrointestinal symptoms. The same questionnaire used in a clinic-based study seven years previously in Guadalajara, Mexico, was used to interview a randomly selected community sample: in addition, the study was repeated at the same clinic sites that had been studied previously. The goals were to investigate: (1) What are community wide prevalences of empacho and use of lead based remedies? (2) To what extent are current patterns of use of lead for treatment of empacho in clinic-based samples similar to those seven years ago. The attributable risk to the population as a whole from use of lead based remedies was found to be 11% of the households of Guadalajara. Essentially this same estimate was seen for the 1987 and 1994 clinic populations. Interestingly, while percentages of lead users have declined since 1987, twice as great a percentage of informants reported treating empacho. Other patterns originally identified in 1987 persisted in 1994; lead use continues to be associated with lower levels of parental education and income.


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