A Novel Look at Racial Health Disparities

The Interaction Between Social Disadvantage and Environmental Health

Black adults in the United States have a greater prevalence of hypertension (43%) than Whites (33%). If Blacks had the same hypertension rates as Whites, $2.775 billion could be saved in health care expenses yearly, including out of pocket, private insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid costs. Hypertension causes 15 deaths per 100,000 people for Whites, but 40 per 100,000 for Black men and 50 per 100,000 for Black women.

Researchers previously have found social stressors experienced by poverty exacerbate environmental hazards such as lead—and higher blood lead and blood pressure levels.

These investigators wanted to update and expand on previous work examining the associations of race, socioeconomic status (poverty and education), blood lead, and blood pressure. They used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2001–08). They found small racial disparity in blood lead levels and systolic blood pressure for Black men and Black women. Whites showed no association. Looking within race–socioeconomic groups, however, a stronger association between blood lead and systolic blood pressure was seen in Black men with no high school education, compared to Black men with at least a high school education. White men showed no such association in any socioeconomic group. 

“Our data suggest that blood lead increases blood pressure mainly among the most disadvantaged populations,” they write.