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Calculating Black Lives Lost Because Of Racial Health Disparities

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A new study published in the Annals of Family Medicine suggests that the lives of 8,000 blacks could be saved each year if their blood pressure was controlled to the average level of whites, the AP/Albany Times Union reports. The study, by Kevin Fiscella of the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry and Kathleen Holt of the university's Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, is based on previous research finding that about 40% of blacks have high blood pressure, compared with about 30% of whites. Cultural differences and poverty are behind the disparity, as both issues can prevent individuals from exercising, eating healthfully and having access to quality care, according to the AP/Times Union.

Researchers estimated how each point of increased blood pressure affected the likelihood of death and then calculated the difference in black and white blood pressure readings. Such differences caused about 5,500 extra deaths among blacks from heart disease and about 2,200 deaths from stroke annually, according to the study. Fiscella said, "We expected it to be big, but it was even larger than we anticipated."

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Former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, said, "It's very clear we need to target our efforts to differences in" how well patients adhere to their prescribed regimens and medical advice.

A separate study by Christopher Millett of the Imperial College of London published in the Annals of Family Medicine found that black patients in England had significantly higher blood pressure readings than whites and Asians even though blacks had been prescribed more medications. The study also found that blacks with other medical conditions, such as heart and kidney disease and diabetes, had worse blood pressure control than whites with the same conditions (Stobbe, AP/Albany Times Union, 11/10).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.