Racism May Increase Risk for Hypertension in Some Black Women

Contact: Gina M. Digravio, 617-638-8491 | gina.digravio@bmc.org

Boston, MA — A subgroup of black women may be at higher risk for developing hypertension due to racism, say researchers at Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center. The findings, the first prospective examination of perceived experiences of racism in relation to the incidence of hypertension, currently appear on-line at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez and are scheduled to appear in the September 2006 issue of the Annals of Epidemiology.

It is well documented that black women have a much higher incidence of hypertension than white women. Previous studies of racism and hypertension have been small and analyses have been cross-sectional. The Boston University researchers specifically examined whether perceptions and experiences of racism were associated with increased risk for hypertension in black women and whether the associations were modified by other characteristics, such as place of birth and neighborhood racial composition.

The data were obtained from the Black Women’s Health Study (BWHS). The BWHS is a collaboration between researchers at Boston University and Howard University, and is a follow-up study of over 59,000 U.S. black women that began in 1995. Participants complete mailed questionnaires every 2 years. The 1997 follow-up questionnaire contained eight questions intended to measure racism. The analyses were based on 2,316 new cases of hypertension reported during 1997 to 2001.

Although most women reported experiencing racism, there was little association of racism with incident hypertension, overall. However, associations were observed in some subgroups.

“Black women who were born outside of the United States, as well as black women who grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods, experienced positive associations between racism and hypertension,” said lead author Dr. Yvette Cozier, an epidemiologist at the Slone Epidemiology Center and an assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health. “The associations were most evident in foreign-born women,” she added. This observation may reflect cultural differences in encountering and responding to racism in the U.S.

According to Cozier the present study adds mixed results to the limited body of data examining whether experiences of racism are an important contributor to the excess burden of hypertension in black women. The development of questions that adequately measure the stress and coping related to experiences of racism will be important for future research. To better understand the association between racism and incidence of hypertension, as well as other health outcomes, the BWHS plans to conduct additional analyses on this subject.

The Slone Epidemiology Center is a public health research organization that focuses on studying the etiology of disease and pediatric populations.