With Obama’s win, race is on all of our minds. It’s a fact that African-Americans have more health problems than whites. Is this due to genes, or environment pressures?or both? It could also be at least partly due to the fact that minorities get fewer diagnostic medical tests done.

Social environment may play a greater role in this than race. Black people have much a much higher incidence of this dangerous disease, but the difference between the races was greatly reduced when researchers compared the health statistics of people living in the same social environments. Researcher Roland James Thorpe says, “Our study found that nearly 31% of the hypertension disparity among African Americans and non-Hispanic whites is attributable to environmental factors. These findings show that ethnic disparities could be linked to a number of factors other than race.”

Commonly referred to as the “silent killer,” hypertension is the most common cardiovascular disease, affecting 65 million adults in the U.S. Hypertension is a serious condition that can damage the heart and blood vessels and eventually lead to stroke, heart failure, heart attack, kidney failure and vision problems. Previous studies have found that African Americans tend to have an earlier onset and higher prevalence of the disease than non-Hispanic whites.

New behavioral science research has found that constantly emphasizing the negative consequences of a lack of cancer screening among minorities can actually make them less likely to go for screening.

Researcher Robert Nicholson says, “We have typically assumed that one of the best ways to motivate individuals is to point out disparities in health, but we may be having negative unintended consequences. Instead of motivating people who would be less likely to get these services in the first place, we may be driving them away.”

Minority communities have been historically underserved by cutting edge medical efforts, and leaders in cancer and other health groups have tried to increase awareness and compliance with known prevention and treatment strategies. However, whether this communication was effective was not known, until this latest study.

“We believe that a positive message would go a long way toward overcoming mistrust,” Nicholson says. “We need the right kind of message for the right kind of person, and not to assume that what we have always done is working.”

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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