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The Poorest African Americans at Highest Risk for Heart Disease

Heart-AttackOne in every four deaths in the United States is caused by heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for both men and women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). African Americans at lower socioeconomic levels, particularly women and younger adults, are at greater risk of heart disease and stroke than those in higher socioeconomic positions according to a new study.

Nearly half of all African American adults have some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and they are twice as likely as white adults to have a first-ever stroke, according to research was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association on May 27.

Scientists analyzed data from more than 5,300 Black Americans from the Jackson Heart Study, in the Jackson, Mississippi area; participants were followed for up to 10 years. During this time, 362 new or recurrent CVD events were recorded, including heart attacks, heart disease deaths, strokes and cardiovascular procedures. Of these events, 213 were in women and 149 were in men.

Multiple measures were used to assess participants, including education, income, wealth and public assistance. For each measure, they divided the study population into thirds by defining low, medium and high. Researchers also adjusted for known behavioral and health risk factors such as smoking, alcohol use, physical activity, body mass index, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol.

Participants’ socioeconomic status was assessed in both adulthood and childhood, though family income during childhood wasn’t linked to later-life cardiovascular risks.

“African Americans with low socioeconomic status (SES) are more likely to have higher rates of obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and physical inactivity compared to their counterparts of higher SES,” said lead study author, Samson Y. Gebreab, Ph.D., M.Sc. to Reuters Health. “Another possible explanation is that African-American women of low SES experience higher rates of psychosocial stressors such as chronic stress, depression, discrimination and are more likely to live and work in a worse physical and social environment.”

This means that poorer Black women have far fewer resources at their disposal to cope with these stressors and thus creates a recipe for a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Resources could mean access to healthcare, healthy food options, or safe streets/place to exercise—including parks or playgrounds.

Here is a rundown of the major findings:

  • Women in the lowest socioeconomic group had more than twice the risk of experiencing a CVD event than those in the highest group.
  • Men and women 50 years and younger in the lowest socioeconomic group had more than three times the risk of experiencing a CVD event than those in the highest group.
  • Being an African American adult age 50 or younger or an African American woman of any age remained independent predictors of CVD.
  • By itself, wealth proved to be an independent predictor of CVD in women. Those in the lowest third were 68 percent and those in the middle third were 61 percent more likely to experience a CVD event than those in the top third.

S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on Twitter @ReporterandGirl, and visit her website at

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3 thoughts on “The Poorest African Americans at Highest Risk for Heart Disease

  1. Stress plays a significant part in the development of heart disease but diet is the main culprit. Many black folks, including other "races", should be eating very few carbohydrates. Our ancestors for many millennia ate meat and roughage with very little or next to no heart disease. With the introduction of white flour, sugar and a plethora of other carbs in our diets, heart disease sky rocketed. The solution? Keto diet. Eat meats and roughage to your desire, and see your blood sugar normalize, see blood pressure normalize, see normalized cholesterol readings, and most importantly watch how you lose weight in all the right places.

  2. Hi Collin,
    Thank you for your response. While I agree that diet is very important to prevent these degenerative diseases; I don't think we can conclusively say which factor is the "main culprit". Because truth is, all we know as scientists and health experts is that there is a correlation, not a causation. And even the type of diet best for people is still being debated (the Mediterranean diet was heralded for decreasing heart disease, as oppose to traditional African diet). Thus, as the article mentions, being poor is a risk factor, because poverty brings a whole host of issues; such as stress, bad diet, poor enviroment and lack of exercise.

  3. TheReporterandTheGirl The scientific literature has been clear on the superiority of the keto-diet verses low fat diet and "mediterranean diet" in reducing blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. Speaking of weight, we both know that obesity within the black community is out of control, and the strong link between obesity and type 2 diabetes. If I'm not mistaken, obesity/overweight statistics for American black women according to the the cdc is at 80%. And, if you have diabetes your risk for developing cardiovascular disease significantly increases. The last I checked, a poor diet causes type 2 diabetes. This is not to say stress doesn't play a role in the development of said diseases in the article but it's clear diet is the main culprit. The article even points out that obesity is much more of a problem within the black community than many others. Check the book below for more information. If you read the book you'll understand why I'm putting "mediterranean diet" in quotations.

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