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Cardiovascular disease (CVD), including stroke, is the largest contributor to the mortality difference between the white and black population in the United States. Numerous studies and research have proven this fact. CVD accounts for 34 percent of the difference in years of life lost between these two groups. This comes from the National Health Interview Survey, which collected data from 1986 to 1994, and showed that rates of hypertension in the two groups accounted for the higher death rate among black people. In fact, many studies have shown a higher prevalence of hypertension in black children aged eight to 17 years. The reasons for the higher incidence of hypertension and death from CVD in the black community are unknown, that is until a study published recently revealed some answers to this question.

The study, done at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, followed almost 7,000 study volunteers and assessed the rates of development of hypertension and CVD (all participants had normal blood pressure at the start of the study). They did indeed find that the rate of development of hypertension and CVD was higher in black participants than white ones. The rate of development of hypertension and CVD was almost twice as high in the black participants than in the white ones. The authors of the study then looked at a number of factors to account for the difference. By far the most important difference between the two groups was diet. Most of the black participants followed what is termed “the Southern diet,” whereas the white participants did not. The Southern diet is a diet high in fried foods, organ meats, processed meats, eggs and egg dishes, added fats, high-fat dairy foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and bread. In other words, a very unhealthy diet. In other studies, this dietary pattern has been associated with stroke, coronary artery disease, kidney disease, infections, cancers, and dementia. Another factor between the two groups was that the black group had a higher dietary intake ratio of sodium to potassium. In other words, the black group used more salt in their diets.

Another significant difference between the groups was an education level of high school or less and the median family income. Low educational attainment is associated with poorer health outcomes, shorter life expectancy, and higher blood pressure. Low-income level is associated with the same outcomes and both are thought to cause these outcomes because of higher life stress. Larger waist size and higher BMI were also associated with higher incidence of hypertension and CVD, but interestingly enough, the rate of development of hypertension and CVD in this study was the same in obese black and white men, but not in obese women. The rate was higher in black women.

In short, if young people want to live longer, they should eat a proper, well- rounded diet, exercise and stay fit, and stay in school. And, of course, don’t smoke (oddly enough, the study did not mention smoking). Sounds like good advice.

 

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