Polycystic ovary syndrome in globalizing India: An ecosocial perspective on an emerging lifestyle disease

Gauri Pathak, Mark Nichter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder linked to type II diabetes and the leading cause of female infertility worldwide. Despite being considered a "lifestyle" disease, PCOS has received scant attention in the social science literature. In India, media accounts citing prominent doctors have expressed concern that the syndrome affects a growing number of urban middle-class Indian women. The general public, doctors, and afflicted women all attribute the condition to stress, lifestyle changes, "Westernization," modernization, and disrupted circadian rhythms. These factors are associated with changes in diets, gender roles, and aspirations since 1991, when the introduction of neoliberal reforms opened up the country to processes of globalization. Women with PCOS have come to be seen as living embodiments of the biosocial stresses associated with modern urban middle-class living, and discourse about PCOS serves as commentary indexing anxieties about social and political-economic shifts in the country. In this paper, based on ethnographic fieldwork in Mumbai, India, with 141 participants from 2012 to 2014, we point to local understanding of PCOS as corresponding to an ecosocial perspective that highlights the structural vulnerabilities of urban middle-class women. Whereas most research on structural vulnerabilities and health has centered on economically and otherwise disadvantaged groups, we use PCOS as a case study to draw attention to the rise of lifestyle disorders linked to the impact of globalization and the pressures of "modern" identities and aspirations among middle-class populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-28
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Ecosocial
  • Globalization
  • India
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • South Asia
  • Structural vulnerabilities
  • Women's health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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