Black people who attended HBCUs appear to be at a lower risk for health problems later in life, compared to Black people who enrolled at predominately white institutions (PWI), according to new research.
Researchers from Ohio State University found that data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health showed that Black Americans who attended an HBCU were 35 percent less likely to develop metabolic syndrome by midlife than counterparts who enrolled at a PWI.
The results were amplified among Black adults who grew up in segregated areas.
Metabolic syndrome is characterized by having three of the five major risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. The five factors include excess stomach fat, a high level of triglycerides in the blood, low “good” cholesterol, and high blood pressure and blood sugar.
Cynthia Colen, an Ohio State University professor and lead author of the study, spoke about the health implications of higher education.
“We’ve known for a very long time that the more years of completed schooling someone has, the better their health is likely to be across the life course, but there’s been very little research looking at the different contexts in which education occurs and their impact on subsequent health outcomes,” she said.
She added that the study showed attending and HBCU can be “health protective” well after a person graduates from school.
Colen worked with OSU sociology graduate student Nicolo Pinchak and with postdoctoral researcher Kierra Barnett.
The 727 Black respondents of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health, who first participated in interviews while in grades 7 to 12 in 1994 and 1995, collectively attended 273 PWIs and 46 HBCUs.
Colen used the data collected in follow-up interviews that took place in 1996, 2001, and 2008. During the interviews, detailed information about the respondents’ health was collected.
Through the use of statistical models that controlled for factors like age, sex, and geographical region, researchers found that 31 percent of Black adults who attended a PWI had metabolic syndrome by 2008, when participants were in their late 20s or early 30s.
By comparison, 23 percent of former HBCU attendees had the syndrome.
The study did not compare Black respondents to white participants in the survey.
“Here, we are looking at how health is unequally distributed among African Americans. And we identify HBCUs as an opportunity not only for upward mobility, but as a potential driver of better health over the life course for individuals who spent their formative years at these types of institutions of higher learning,” Colen said.
Gallup found in 2015 that Black graduates of HBCUs were more likely than Black graduates of other institutions to report a higher level of financial and physical well-being. The study also found that the HBCU grads were more likely to say that felt supported by professors while in college, and that they were “thriving” at reducing financial stress and increasing security.
While Colen said that the data doesn’t explain why HBCU graduates were less likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome, she noted that Black students at HBCUs interact with more Black peers and staff who can serve as mentors, and are less likely to face chronic racial discrimination.
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