Racism may be causing heart disease in black women

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As communities begin to grapple with their long and sordid history of inequality and inequality, more and more clinicians, public health professionals and policymakers are looking at the health impacts of racism – with many major bodies coming to the point of calling. it from public health crisis. It’s not just rhetoric: new studies are confirming the potentially lethal consequences of systemic racism.

Preliminary research analyzing responses from more than 48,000 people enrolled in the Black Women’s Health Study found that people who reported experiencing certain types of racial discrimination had higher rates of heart disease over a 22-year period. These findings were presented March 1 at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions on Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle, and Cardiometabolic Health.

“Structural racism is real — at work, in educational circumstances and in interactions with the criminal justice system,” said Michelle Albert, president of the American Heart Association and author of the research, in a press release. “We now have hard data linking it to cardiovascular outcomes, which means we as a society need to work on the things that create the barriers that perpetuate structural racism.”

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The Black Women’s Health Study is not new. In fact, researchers have been following nearly 60,000 people since 1995, when they sent questionnaires to subscribers of the Essence magazine and members of some professional organizations. According to the Health Study website, its goal is to follow these women over time and gather information about their health.

The data will help researchers answer certain questions about black women’s health, such as why young black women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than young white women, why black women have lupus more often, and why that black babies are born premature more often. . The researchers also pose a question that potentially links these observations: “Do experiences of racism affect the occurrence of various diseases in black women?”

Studies over the past two decades suggest yes. Stress can be separated into acute and chronic categories – while the acute stress of rushing to meet a deadline can be bad enough for your health and sleep, a chronic stressor like racism can be even worse in the long run. For example, people who report experiencing racial discrimination tend to have shorter telomeres, which are caps that protect chromosomes and are a marker of cellular aging. Shorter telomeres, in turn, are associated with a shorter lifespan. This means that racism can literally age – and fatally injure – a person’s body.

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But certain conditions, like heart disease, have never been tracked over time and linked to perceived racism, Shanshan Sheehy, a Boston University epidemiologist who led the research, told The Daily Beast via email. In this preliminary research, Sheehy and her co-authors analyzed responses to eight questions sent to participants in the Black Women’s Health Study in 1997. They then tracked the respondents’ health through 2019 to see who developed heart disease, fatal and non-fatal.

Nearly 2,000 participants developed heart disease over those 22 years, allowing the researchers to see if they agreed with statements like “People act like they’re afraid of you” or “You get worse service than other people in restaurants or stores.” . more often than those who didn’t.

Interestingly, responses to questions designed to measure interpersonal racism in everyday life, such as the two above, were not significantly linked to a black woman’s risk of heart disease. This could be because the effects of racism in daily life can be mitigated by a coping mechanism, such as talking to a friend, Sheehy said.

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But looking at responses to questions designed to measure perceived racism in jobs, housing and police interactions told a different story. Black women who reported experiencing racism in these aspects of their lives were 26% more likely to develop heart disease than women who did not report experiencing racism.

“The consequences of being treated unfairly at work, home and by the police are much harder to ignore by talking to a friend,” added Sheehy.

There are several factors to consider when interpreting these statistics. For one thing, the women in this study were all compared to each other. There is no way to say whether significant differences might exist in heart disease risk based on experiences of everyday interpersonal racism if these participants are compared to white women, for example.

Furthermore, this research did not measure structural forms of discrimination such as redlining. Survey responses “cannot capture existing racism outside of consciousness,” Sheehy said, although she added that future research using data from the Black Women’s Health Study aims to incorporate measures of structural racism as well.

Ultimately, Sheehy said, the research’s conclusion is simple: “Racism has a real impact on the heart health of black women.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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Racism may be causing heart disease in black women

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