A study by the National Institutes of Health has found that African-American men who grew up in single-parent homes are more likely to have health problems stemming from high blood pressure than African-American men who grew up in two-parent households.
Nearly 70 percent of Black babies are born out of wedlock, according to government statistics.
Researchers from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) analyzed blood pressure rates and the incidence of hypertension, a persistent state of high blood pressure, in a group of 515 African-American men enrolled in the Howard University Family Study (HUFS). The findings were reported in the Dec. 12, 2013 issue of the journal Hypertension, and is “the first study of an African-American population to document an association between childhood family living arrangements and blood pressure.”
“Being raised by a single parent really puts kids at a disadvantage in terms of resources that would be available to them,” Charles Rotimi, the study’s co-author, said. “Our study is not an indictment of single-parent homes. Single parents, however, may struggle more to keep things together, and this may be impacting children in ways that later manifest as adult onset diseases.”
According to the study, “African-American men who grew up in a household with both parents had a significantly lower blood pressure as adults compared to African-American men who grew up in a household with a single parent, regardless of whether the parent was a mother or father.” Furthermore, the “researchers saw the most positive health effects in men who lived with both parents for one to 12 years,” with this group having a “46 percent lower chance of being diagnosed with hypertension compared to adults who for those years were raised by a single parent.”
The study’s authors “suggest that living with both parents early in life may represent a critical opportunity when children develop biologically protective mechanisms that last throughout life.” The researchers will conduct further study to get a grasp on how “incremental DNA fine tuning, or epigenetics, impacts the way various cells behave or are transformed throughout the lifespan of an individual.”
“Family structure is among a slew of environmental influences that, along with our genes, helps determine our health as adults,” said Dan Kastner, the scientific director of NHGRI. “This study makes important observations about home life that may affect susceptibility to complex diseases later on in life.”
According to the NIH, “hypertension underlies an array of life-threatening conditions, including heart disease, stroke, heart attack and kidney disease,” and a third of U.S. adults suffer from the condition. In the African-American community, 39 percent of men and 43 percent of women suffer from high blood pressure.