Neighborhood Segregation and African American Health

For a long time, the medical community has known that African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure.  In an effort to find associations with this glaring health disparity, studies have been performed to understand how African American’s lifestyle habits may affect blood pressure.  However, there is very limited research on how the social environment may cause poor health outcomes.

On Monday, May 15th, Northwestern University released a first of its kind study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The study examines the long term effects of how leaving segregated communities could affect the risk of heart disease.  The study involves following more than 2,000 African-Americans between 18-30 years old that were living in highly segregated neighborhoods in Oakland, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Birmingham, AL. The researchers followed the subjects for 25 years and found associations that those who moved away from less segregated neighborhoods and stayed there during the study period had significantly low blood pressure even after accounting for other factors that could have played a role, such as changes in income and education.

The study does not explain how moving to less-segregated neighborhoods could affect blood pressure, but factors may include less stress from being exposed to less violence and discrimination and access to parks, community centers, and grocery stores with more fresh produce and pharmacies to get medication.

There are positive implications of having people move from more segregated neighborhoods to more integrated neighborhoods, like lower blood pressure. By noticing this shift and listening to the stories of these 18-30 year olds, the researchers were able to recognize and validate the health disparities that exist in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. Consequently, this research will challenge the inappropriate care provided to African American families by recognizing the effect of their living environment.

Cultural competency (consequently, cultural humility) is a strong driver in eliminating health disparities and closing the ethnic and racial gaps in healthcare as it fosters meaningful collaboration in which patients and doctors can speak about health concerns in a way that cultural differences enhance the treatment.

Written by: Colin HartNU-BloodPressure-infographic2.jpg