Sarah Horton, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, was awarded the Steven Polgar Prize by the Society for Medical Anthropology at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association in Montreal on Nov. 19. The prize is for the best article published in the Medical Anthropology Quarterly in 2010. Horton and co-author Judith Barker, PhD, a professor at the University of California-San Francisco, were awarded for their article, “Stigmatized Biologies: Examining the Cumulative Effects of Oral Health Disparities for Mexican American Farmworker Children.”

Based on nine months of research Horton conducted in a farmworking community in California’s Central Valley, the article is unique in using oral disease – an understudied topic – as a lens through which to understand the physiological and social effects of early social disadvantage. The article examines the effects of the epidemic of early childhood caries among Mexican American farmworker children on both their physical development and their social mobility. Horton and Barker examine the role of dietary and environmental factors in contributing to what they call “stigmatized biologies,” and that of market-based dental public health insurance systems in cementing their enduring effects.

Because children’s severe early childhood caries contributes to lasting dental problems and even alters the shape of the oral cavity, the authors show that poor oral health can lead to lasting social stigma. Thus, the authors argue that Mexican American farmworker children’s poor oral health affects also their prospects for the future; as young adults, their social mobility may be precluded by their visible bodily markings.

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