African-Americans in Segregated Neighborhoods Have Higher Blood Pressure

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has completed a study of high blood pressure in adult Blacks and found that African-Americans who live in segregated communities and who have high blood pressure experience a significant reduction when they move to an integrated community.

Journal of the American Medical Association (AMA)

The findings are reported in the May issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Our study suggests that the stress and the inadequate access to health-promoting resources associated with segregation may play a role in these increases in blood pressure,” said David Goff, M.D., director of the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of NIH.

sphygmomanometer, for measuring blood pressure
sphygmomanometer, for measuring blood pressure

“While stress raises blood pressure, access to health-promoting resources…” is critical.

The study, Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) looked at 18-30-year-old African-Americans in 1985-1986 and evaluated them again 25 years later.

Why the higher blood pressure?

Dr. Goff indicated that there are multiple reasons for higher blood pressure in segregated communities, including lack of access to healthcare, full-service grocery stores, and recreation centers on top of the elevating effects of stress.

Because of the economics of life in segregated communities, the entire community is deprived of healthy alternatives in their daily lives.

Three classifications of communities from highly segregated to low-level segregation and assigning individuals according to where they lived both originally and where they have moved demonstrated that on average, the more segregated the community, the higher the blood pressure.

Powerful effect despite small change

Although the differences in systolic (higher number) blood pressure are small, as little as 3 to 5 mm Hg, “This is a powerful effect,” said lead author Kiarri Kershaw, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “In terms of impact, just 1 mm Hg of reduction of the systolic blood pressure at the population level could result in meaningful reductions in heart attacks, strokes and heart failure.”