In a recent study however, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Boston University Sloan School of Epidemiology found no direct association between perceived racism and risk of death in African American Women. These findings are published in the May 24, 2010 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
“Black women living in the United States have lower life-expectancy than women belonging to other ethnic groups despite advances in medical care and technology,” said lead study author Michelle Albert, MD, MPH, of the Divisions of Cardiology and Preventive Medicine at BWH. Previous studies have established the connection between racism, a source of chronic psychological stress, and negative health outcomes in African American women, but Dr. Albert and her colleagues at Harvard Medical School as well as from Boston University wanted to take that one step further by determining whether the risk of death is directly associated with perceived experiences with racism.
The researchers examined data collected in a large follow-up study of African-American women in Boston University’s “Black Women’s Health Study” and were surprised to find no association between reports of perceived racism and all-cause, cancer or cardiovascular mortality, but notably found that a majority of women reported experiencing racism.
According to Dr. Albert, “This is the largest national longitudinal study of apparently healthy African-American women to evaluate this question. Further work is necessary in this complex area of research to explore the possibility of relationships between racism and individual disease endpoints as evidenced by previous findings of adverse effects of racism on mental health, blood pressure, and weight gain since we know that social factors can adversely affect health.”
Conducted by researchers at Boston University, the Black Women’s Health Study followed 48, 924 African-American women who were free of cancer or cardiovascular disease at study initiation. During 8 years of follow-up, 920 deaths occurred, of which 277 and 195 respectively were due to cancer and cardiovascular causes. The women provided information about perceived racism by questionnaire and deaths were ascertained using a national death database.
The Black Women’ Health Study is funded by the National Cancer Institute, and funding for Dr. Albert was provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Donald Reynolds Foundation and Learner Family and J Ira Nikki Harris Cardiovascular Awards from Brigham and Women’s Hospital.