Study on hypertension indicates racial disparity among Hispanics

Hispanics in America who self-identify as Black are suffering higher rates of hypertension than their Hispanic counterparts who identify as White, according to research conducted at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. However, the study found that on the whole, U.S. Hispanics have lower rates of high blood pressure (16.8 percent) than non-Hispanics (24.7 percent).

The study suggests this apparent health advantage could be an artifact of the U.S. Census grouping of all Spanish speaking people into a single category (Hispanic) without regard to race. According to Luisa Borrell, DDS, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School and author, "In fact, the research confirms that the 'protective effect' of being Hispanic does not extend to Black Hispanics." Dr. Borrell's research is the first to examine hypertension along racial lines within the Hispanic ethnic group.

"The idealized Hispanic health advantage disappears when race is accounted for," she observes.

Dr. Borrell analyzed data collected in the National Health Interview Survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. The survey asked participants if they had been told by a doctor or other health professional if they had high blood pressure, and included interviews with more than 12,000 Hispanic adults. "Overall, Blacks, regardless of their ethnicity, exhibited the highest prevalence of hypertension," Dr. Borrell indicated.

As a first step toward explaining how health is affected by race, Dr. Borrell's findings beg the question, what is it about being black that makes the difference? "This kind of comparison could help tease out the effect of race as a marker for inequality in opportunities and, further, as a cause for existing health disparities," Dr. Borrell said of these findings.

According to Dr. Borrell, hypertension has been found to be associated with discrimination and racism among non-Hispanic Blacks. She suggests, "because of the racialized society in which we live, Hispanic Blacks could face a double jeopardy discrimination both from outside the Hispanic community and from within. Such discrimination may lead to inequality in opportunities and life chances which can translate into poorer health."

Dr. Borrell's work was supported by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars Program.

The full study findings are published in the Winter issue of the journal, Ethnicity & Disease.

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About the Mailman School of Public Health
The only accredited school of public health in New York City, and among the first in the nation Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health provides instruction and research opportunities to more than 850 graduate students in pursuit of masters and doctoral degrees. Its students and more than 250 multi-disciplinary faculty engage in research and service in the city, nation, and around the world, concentrating on biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health policy and management, population and family health, and sociomedical sciences. www.mailman.hs.columbia.edu


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