Where one lives could play a larger role in health disparities than originally thought, according to a study from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Researchers examined a racially integrated low-income neighborhood in Baltimore and found that, with the exception of smoking, nationally reported disparities in hypertension, diabetes, obesity among women and use of health services disappeared or narrowed. The study is published in 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,” Thomas LaVeist, PhD, lead author of the study, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions, and the William C. and Nancy F. Richardson professor in Health Policy and Management stated in an university press release.
LaVeist and colleagues identified communities in the United States containing a population of at least 35% African American and
35% white residents, and where the African Americans and white residents have similar income and education. Two communities in Baltimore were selected as study sites and in-person interviews were conducted with adult residents. Blood pressure was also measured among a number of study participants. Researchers used data from the National Health Interview Survey to compare national and study-site data on obesity, smoking and diabetes. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was used to compare national and study-site data on hypertension. Data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey was used to compare the use of health services nationally and in the study area. Researchers concluded that racial differences in social environments explained a significant portion of disparities typically found in national data.
“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 stated.