Where Folks Live Plays Role in Health Disparities: Study

Race seems to matter less than living in a poor community, researchers say

TUESDAY, Oct. 11 (HealthDay News) -- White and black Americans who live in poor neighborhoods struggle with many of the same health disparities, which suggests that where a person lives plays a larger role in health disparities than previously believed, according to a new study.

Researchers looked at rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and obesity in two low-income, racially integrated communities in Baltimore with at least 35 percent black and 35 percent white residents who had similar income and education levels.

The researchers compared the information from these two neighborhoods with national data on health disparities. Nationally reported disparities in high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity among women, and in the use of health services, weren't evident or were much smaller in the two neighborhoods.

The study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers is published in the October issue of the journal Health Affairs.

"Most of the current health disparities literature fails to account for the fact that the nation is largely segregated, leaving racial groups exposed to different health risks and with variable access to health services based on where they live," lead author Thomas LaVeist, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions, and a professor in health policy and management, said in a Hopkins news release.

"By comparing black and white Americans who are exposed to the same set of socioeconomic, social and environmental conditions we were better equipped to discern the impact of race on health-related outcomes and have concluded social factors are essentially equalized when racial disparities are minimized," LaVeist added.

"When whites are exposed to the health risks of an urban environment, their health status is compromised similarly to that of blacks, who more commonly live in such communities," co-author Darrell Gaskin, deputy director of the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions and an associate professor with the Bloomberg School's Department of Health Policy and Management, explained in the news release.

"Policies aimed solely at health behavior change, biological differences among racial groups, or increased access to health care are limited in their ability to close racial disparities in health. A more effective policy approach would be to address the differing resources of neighborhoods and improve the underlying conditions of health for all," Gaskin added.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about health disparities.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, news release, Oct. 6, 2011

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