Young Blacks and Broken Hearts

The New England Journal of Medicine has an arresting study that finds blacks under the age of 50 are 20 times more likely to develop heart disease than whites.  Here’s the abstract, for geeks, and an AP digest for everybody else.

I’ll repeat what the researchers stress here: the finding is based on a small number of cases and, thus, should be understood to raise troubling questions rather than taken as a final truth. That said, it’s a troubling study, particularly when added to the mound of existing research on preventable black death. I’ve argued that it’s the great irony of post-civil rights life: While we’ve made remarkable progress on a number of fronts, closing achievement gaps in things ranging from income to education, the black-white mortality gap hasn’t budged.

This study, conducted in four cities, signed up 5,100 18-30 year old blacks and whites and tracked them for more than 20 years. Just 27 of the subjects developed heart disease, but only one of them was white. Five people died, all of them black. Further, while there were no racial differences in body weight and blood pressure at the study’s outset, by the time participants hit their 40s blacks had more high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney disease.

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But here’s the real kicker, from AP:

Another mystery: Researchers told those who were diagnosed with high blood pressure to see their doctors about it. But 10 years into the study, the condition was untreated or poorly controlled in 3 out of 4 black patients diagnosed.

That’s likely a failure by both doctors and patients, said Dr. Eric Peterson, a Duke University professor of medicine who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

Frustrating.

—KAI WRIGHT

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