Burden of Discrimination Can Lead to High Blood Pressure

Numerous studies have demonstrated the negative health risks directly and indirectly attributed to discrimination. For minority individuals, various aspects of discrimination work uniquely to impact physical and psychological health. In a recent study conducted by Mario Sims of the Department of Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, these factors were individually examined in an effort to better assess exactly how each domain of discrimination influences physical health and specifically, blood pressure. Sims gathered data from the Jackson Heart Study, a broad-based study on heart disease among the African-American population. He looked at how negative coping strategies, such as substance abuse, tobacco use, eating issues, and lack of exercise affected hypertension. Sims focused on four specific dimensions of prejudice and discrimination, namely lifetime discrimination, everyday discrimination, the burden of being discriminated against, and the stress caused by discrimination.

The participants, 4,939 African-American men and women of varying socioeconomic and risk status, ranged between 35 and 84 years of age and were all assessed for hypertension. Sims discovered that more than 59% of the men and 64% of the women had hypertension. Upon further examination, Sims found that the lifetime prevalence of discrimination and the burden associated with discrimination were both significant risk factors for hypertension in the participants. In particular, these factors resulted in an 8% to 9% increase in the likelihood of developing hypertension. Sims also examined stress in relation to discrimination. He said, “Because research suggested that the stressfulness of life events is important for predicting health outcomes, we examined the stress-related item of the burden scale separately and found similar associations.” This suggests that stress caused from discrimination can negatively impact physical health. When Sims studied the correlation between everyday discrimination and hypertension he found no relationship. Additional findings of this study demonstrated that perceptions attributed to discrimination, such as racial bias, also affected hypertension. These results emphasize the importance of addressing healthy coping strategies for individuals experiencing stress from discrimination.

Sims, M., Diez-Roux, A. V., Dudley, A., Gebreab, S., Wyatt, S. B. (2012). Perceived discrimination and hypertension among African Americans in the Jackson Heart Study. American Journal of Public Health 102.S2, S258-265.

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  • Kelsea


    June 18th, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    I guess that it doesn’t matter if it is real discrimination or if they just perceive that they are being discriminated against. Either way it looks like there is a negative impact on their health in terms of high blood pressure.

    But suppose there are other factors at work too. We know that those in the study were primarily African American, who already have a higher prevalence of high blood pressure than other demographics do. Have we looked at the income levels too? Because sometimes I think that you will see that those with lower incomes have a higher chance of eating diets which are unhealthy for them, which in turn could lead to the development of high blood pressure. Those factors should not be discounted.

  • Yvonne


    June 18th, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    I find it to be quite unfortunate that someone who has already had his life made to feel smaller and less than equal to another should also have to deal with the medical problems that can be a result of unchecked and untended high blood pressure. As if they have not already had to suffer enough due to the unforgiving nature of certain ignorances still present today, these are people who now have to face a life of medical uncertainty dealing with what can often be termed a silent killer. Even worse is that many of these people who are facing this crisis have little acces to healthcare that could help them to manage this disease due to lack of money or lack of accessible medical care in the area of the country or state in which they live. Why does it seem that the burdens always fall heavier on those who can least stand to take any more?

  • landon a

    landon a

    June 19th, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    There are many people who suffer from high blood pressure, discriminated against or not.

    Who’s to say that even if the discrimination ended or even if it had never happened that these same people wouldn’t still have high blood pressure?

    This medical ailment can come from many different factors, from genetics and diet, to even the environment that they are raised in.

    It just might be too soon to point the finger of blame in only this one direction as there are numerous things that could be leading to high blood pressure among this population.

  • Trevor


    June 20th, 2012 at 12:36 AM

    Discrimination is pathetic, no doubt. But really it couldnt be tougher to observe the effects of something as much as it is for discrimination.

    Rather than focusing on how it effects, we should try and root it out. Everyday people are not going to look at scientific facts and say “okay discrimination is harmful so let me not do that to anybody”.

  • Peter


    June 20th, 2012 at 4:29 AM

    The best thing that can be done is providing everyone with better ways to cope with the stress that life gives so willingly.
    When we don’t have the strength to cope with those stresses then that is when that can be reflected in our overall physical health.

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