As part of a new study, Black women who reported experiencing structural racism in the workplace, housing, and in police interactions police also had a 26 percent higher risk of developing heart disease than their peers who had not.
With regard to housing, education, employment, health care, and criminal justice systems, structural racism is the process through which a society promotes racial discrimination.
The purpose of this study wasn’t to ascertain if perceived racism raises the risk of heart disease, although researchers do have some thoughts in this regard as well.
Shanshan Sheehy, the author of the study, said that “Chronic psychosocial stressors like racism increase levels of inflammation, blood pressure and some other risks for heart disease.”
From 1997 to 2019, the researchers followed more than 48,000 Black Women’s Health Study participants for the study.
At the start of the research, nobody had heart disease. In the course of the 22-year follow-up, 1,947 women ended up being diagnosed with heart disease.
The participants were first asked to respond to three questions regarding institutional racism at their job, in housing, or encounters with the police as well as 5 questions about their experiences with racism in daily life.
Experiencing racism in daily life was not associated with an increased risk of heart disease, but women who reported encountering racism in their work, housing, and encounters with the police were more likely to develop heart disease than those who gave affirmative answers to all three questions.
Nevertheless, because the study is observational, it cannot conclusively show a cause-and-effect connection.
Future studies will examine various forms of racism to discover if or how they impact heart health.
About this, Sheehy mentioned that “This can lead to new insights and advance understanding of the way racism impacts heart health.”
It’s crucial that Black individuals take all possible steps to enhance their heart health because they already have a greater than average risk of getting heart disease as a result of high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes.
Sheehy went on to also say that “Keeping blood pressure in the normal range, never smoking, leading an active life, and sleeping well are good for your heart.”
According to Tené Lewis, an epidemiology professor, the new study expands on the body of knowledge on how racism impacts health.
Lewis, who was not directly involved in the research, noted that “There are some studies that show discrimination is associated with early heart disease and inflammation, but studies linking racism to clinical endpoints have been few and far in between before now. [Racism’s effect on health] matters a lot, we know that it matters, and here’s the proof, so it is time to take a larger and more collective action against it. Pushing these issues under the rug does not help anyone. We need to acknowledge the complexity of our history with race and start to think about what we can do to promote equality for everybody as a society. We need to acknowledge that this is something that exists and that it is OK not to be OK.”