Black women who are exposed to certain forms of racism may be more likely to develop heart disease, researchers say.
Specifically, Black women who have faced discrimination in employment, housing and in their interactions with the police were 26 percent more likely to develop heart disease than their counterparts who had not experienced such structural racism.
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What is structural racism and how does it affect your heart?
Structural racism refers to the ways that a society fosters racial discrimination through housing, education, employment, health care and criminal justice systems.
The new study wasn’t designed to determine how perceived racism increases heart disease risk, but researchers have their theories. “Chronic psychosocial stressors such as racism increase levels of inflammation, blood pressure and other risks for heart disease,” says study author Shanshan Sheehy. She is an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine.
For the study, the researchers tracked more than 48,000 women enrolled in the Black Women’s Health Study from 1997 to 2019. None had heart disease in 1997. During 22 years of follow-up, 1,947 women developed heart disease.
Women answered five questions in 1997 about their experiences related to racism in their everyday lives and three questions about structural racism in employment, housing, or their interactions with police.
Heart disease risk wasn’t tied to experiences of racism in everyday life, but women who reported experiencing racism in employment, housing, and in their interactions with police were at higher risk of heart disease compared with those women who answered no to all three questions on structural racism.
The new study adds to a growing body of research on how racism affects health, says Tené Lewis. She is an associate professor of epidemiology at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, in Atlanta.
“There are studies that show reports of discrimination are associated with early heart disease and