A new study has linked perceived racism to an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) for Black women.
"Many Black adults in the US are already at higher risk of developing heart disease due to high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes," said lead study author Shanshan Sheehy, ScD. "Current evidence shows that racism may act as a chronic stressor in the human body, and chronic stress may lead to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke."
The study analyzed data from more than 48,000 women ranging from ages 22 to 72 who participated in the Black Women's Health Study from 1997 to the end of 2019. All participants were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer at the start of the study.
Participants provided information on perceived interpersonal racism through a series of questions asking if they've ever been treated unfairly in employment, housing, and interactions with police due to race. Researchers then averaged the responses and calculated a self-perceived racism score for each participant.
During the 22-year follow-up period, the researchers concluded that the women who reported racism had a significantly increased risk of CHD compared to their counterparts.
“Structural racism is real — on the job, in educational circumstances, and in interactions with the criminal justice system,” said co-author Michelle A. Albert, MD. “Now we have hard data linking it to cardiovascular outcomes, which means that we as a society need to work on the things that create the barriers that perpetuate structural racism.”
"These findings support the hypothesis that experiences of racism may explain some of the disproportionately high incidence of CHD in the Black population,” the authors concluded in their abstract. Further research is needed to "evaluate the joint impacts of perceived interpersonal racism and structural racism."