Leaving Segregated Neighborhoods Reduces Blood Pressure for African-Americans

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First longitudinal study on segregation and blood pressure looks at changes over 25 years

The systolic blood pressure readings of African-Americans dropped between one to five points when they moved to less segregated neighborhoods, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

It is the first study to look at the longitudinal effects of living in less segregated areas on blood pressure and to compare the effect within the same individuals. Previous research showed racial residential segregation is related to a prevalence of hypertension at a single point in time.

“This study provides stronger, more direct evidence that segregation impacts blood pressure and harms the health of African-Americans,” said lead author Kiarri Kershaw, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of Preventive Medicine in the Division of Epidemiology. “I believe it’s related to the stress of living in these neighborhoods.”

Less stress, achieved by decreasing exposure to violence and improving opportunities for socioeconomic mobility, is likely a key factor in blood pressure reductions, Kershaw said.

“In a less violent area with better resources, you are more secure about your family’s safety and your children’s future in better schools,” Kershaw said. “You see opportunities for the economic mobility of your kids. And there is better access to good grocery stores, healthcare and an economically vital business district.”

The change in blood pressure was not related to poverty or household income, but increases in educational attainment were related to reductions in blood pressure.

First longitudinal study on segregation and blood pressure looks at changes over 25 years

The systolic blood pressure readings of African-Americans dropped between one to five points when they moved to less segregated neighborhoods, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

It is the first study to look at the longitudinal effects of living in less segregated areas on blood pressure and to compare the effect within the same individuals. Previous research showed racial residential segregation is related to a prevalence of hypertension at a single point in time.

“This study provides stronger, more direct evidence that segregation impacts blood pressure and harms the health of African-Americans,” said lead author Kiarri Kershaw, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of Preventive Medicine in the Division of Epidemiology. “I believe it’s related to the stress of living in these neighborhoods.”

Less stress, achieved by decreasing exposure to violence and improving opportunities for socioeconomic mobility, is likely a key factor in blood pressure reductions, Kershaw said.

“In a less violent area with better resources, you are more secure about your family’s safety and your children’s future in better schools,” Kershaw said. “You see opportunities for the economic mobility of your kids. And there is better access to good grocery stores, healthcare and an economically vital business district.”

The change in blood pressure was not related to poverty or household income, but increases in educational attainment were related to reductions in blood pressure.

The research is supported by grants P60 MD002249 from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, HHSN268201300025C, HHSN268201300026C, HHSN268201300027C, HHSN268201300028C, HHSN268201300029C, HHSN268200900041C and AG0005 from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Aging, all of the National Institutes of Health.

Kiarri Kershaw, PhD, MPH