Older Blacks Perceive Overall Health Differently Than Whites

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Elderly blacks are more likely than their white counterparts to rate their health as poor, even when they are in good physical health, according to a study in the January issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, Reuters reports. Lead researcher Melinda Spencer of the University of South Carolina hypothesized that older blacks were more pessimistic about their health than whites and likely would rate themselves more poorly.

According to Reuters, self-reported health can predict a person's risk of dying over the next few years, as well as whether the person will need care in a nursing home.

For the study, researchers examined the self-rated health of 2,729 people ages 70 to 79. About 41% of respondents were black. Researchers also tested participants' ability to stand from a sitting position, balance in different standing positions and walk on a narrow path. They recorded participants' walking speed as well.


Both whites and blacks were "functioning extremely well," according to the study. Black participants had worse scores on the physical function tests, were less educated and were less satisfied with social support. The study found that 27.3% of blacks and 8.2% of whites rated their health as fair or poor. Among whites, 17.6% said they were in excellent health and 34% rated their health as very good, compared with 8.7% and 25.3% of blacks, respectively. Researchers found that the racial disparity was greater among those who tested highest in the physical function tests.

Spencer said, "It didn't seem that physical functioning was really responsible for the overall rating of health. We saw that as an indication that definitions of health are very much culturally constructed." She said it also is possible that the accumulated affects of racism could influence elderly blacks' perception of their health.

"Fundamentally a person knows that what's going on in their life, what's going on in their body is true to them," Spencer said, adding, "It really takes a life course perspective to understand how health is at any given snapshot in time" (Harding, Reuters, 11/25).

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.