Segregated Neighborhoods Raise Heart Risks if You’re Black


By Nora Dunne

Northwestern University

African Americans who live in segregated neighborhoods are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease that people who live in integrated ones, new research shows.

The opposite is true for white people who reside in predominantly white neighborhoods. There is no association in either direction for people of Hispanic descent.

Segregated neighborhoods raise heart risks for African Americans.

Neighborhood characteristics, social environment, and various individual factors had no bearing on the findings, which can be largely explained by differences in neighborhood poverty, researchers say.

Consequences of segregation

“Our results suggest the processes that lead to segregation vary across racial and ethnic groups,” says Kiarri Kershaw, assistant professor of preventive medicine-epidemiology at Northwestern University. “As such, so do the consequences of segregation on health.”

Researchers used data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), examining CVD in adults aged 45 to 84 that were recruited from six sites across the United States. The study included 1,595 black participants, 2,345 white participants, and 1,289 Hispanic participants. None had CVD at baseline.

Follow-up about 10 years after recruitment revealed that every increase in neighborhood segregation measurement was associated with a 12 percent higher risk of developing CVD among black participants.

Neighborhoods and health

Though exclusionary housing practices have been outlawed in the United States for more than 50 years, residential segregation remains widespread, the authors write in the paper, that is published in the journal Circulation.

“A better understanding of what it is about living in a segregated neighborhood that influences health, such as access to healthy foods or exposure to violence, will help policymakers decide the best approach for addressing segregation in major cities like Chicago,” Kershaw says.

Though many studies have examined the links between race/ethnicity and health outcomes, this is the first to comprehensively focus on CVD and neighborhood segregation.

“Previous studies in this area have used death certificate data and have not been able to adjust for neighborhood characteristics or detailed individual factors,” Kershaw says. “Our study was able to examine outcomes in participants with more detailed data available and account for changes in residence that occurred while participants were in the study.”

The National Institutes of Health funded the work.

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