Long-Term Racial Discrimination Linked With Heart Disease, Study Finds
Long-term, low-level stress from racial discrimination may be negatively affecting blacks' physical health, according to a study presented Saturday at a meeting of the American Heart Association, the Washington Post reports.
For the study, researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago asked 181 black women ages 45-58 to answer a questionnaire about racial discrimination in their everyday lives once yearly between 1996 and 2001. The questionnaire asked the women about 10 experiences and had answer options including, "You are treated with less courtesy than other people" and "You receive poorer service than other people at restaurants or stores."
Respondents' scores over the course of the study were averaged on a four-point scale, and respondents at the end of the study underwent CT scans to measure coronary artery calcification, an early stage of heart disease. Researchers compared the level of discrimination the women reported with the calcification and found that increased calcification corresponded with higher scores on the stress questionnaire.
According to the study, the chances of having calcification were 2.5 times higher for every one unit of increase on a four-point scale measuring perceived discrimination after other heart disease risks factors were taken into account.
Tene Lewis, a health psychologist at Rush who presented the study, said, "We believe it's the accumulated burden of this subtle racial discrimination that's having this effect." Lewis added, "It's not just having this experience once or twice but having it over and over again throughout a person's life."
Norman Anderson, CEO of the American Psychological Association, said that the study was "one of the first to link exposure to discrimination to a specific disease process."
Sally Satel, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said the study was "almost meaningless," adding, "If someone is rude to you, you don't know if it's discrimination or your perception. People who are already high-strung and hypervigilant may bring that kind of interpretation to the situation and are probably the kind of people who would be at high risk for heart problems."
Peter Bach, a senior adviser at CMS, said, "It's going to be a very hard problem to fully disentangle because of the difficulty in assigning causality in something that is a patient's interpretation of their experience over a very long period of time. But it's a very important area to pursue in a scientifically valid way" (Stein, Washington Post, 5/1).