Racial Differences In High Blood Pressure

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Because of generally praiseworthy efforts to overcome a history of racism in North America, for many years there wasn’t many studies of sure-enough racial differences. But, in at least one major life area, that of bodily susceptibility to high blood pressure aka hypertension, this principled intellectual dismissal of racial differences has not provided any kind of benefit to ‘minority’ groups of people, and may actually have been to some degree harmful. Recently, there has been some serious study in this area, with a few surprising results.

Recent Canadian research done among folks in the Toronto area has turned up major differences between various ethnic groups in their apparent susceptibility to circulatory-system ailments. including heart trouble and stroke. One study compared Chinese, Black, South Indian (having ancestry from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, or Bangladesh), and Caucasian folks; these comprise Canada’s four largest ethnic groups. The Chinese group came out the best, followed by the Black group. The South Indian group and the Caucasian group both came out quite badly in comparison. However, one of the research principals believes that the reasons for these fairly sharp differences aren’t primarily genetic, but that rather they come from variations in education, in income, in culture, and in lifestyle choices — read, diet. Also, the traditional Canadian reluctance to study racial differences needs to give way, at least in this instance, so that people of different races can all get the best treatments that they need.

Toronto is probably similar enough to a major American city that the study results can reasonably be applied to the United States also.

The study examined actual rates of heart disease and stroke among people in each ethnic group, along with eight well-established cardiovascular-system risk factors. These were:

  • Smoking.
  • Obesity.
  • Type II Diabetes.
  • High Blood Pressure.
  • Stress.
  • Fruit and Vegetable Consumption.
  • Amount of Physical Exercise.
  • Amount of Alcohol Consumption.

Some sharp differences between ethnic groups turned up:

  • Smoking: 8.6% among South Asians, versus 24.8% among Caucasians.
  • Obesity: 14.1% among Blacks, versus 4.3% among Chinese.
  • Diabetes: 8.1% among South Asians, versus 4.2% among Caucasians.
  • High Blood Pressure: Bad for all groups, one in seven Ontarians overall; but worst among Blacks and South Asians.
  • Physical Activity: Worst among Chinese and among South Asians; 73% got less than 15 minutes per day.
  • Poverty: Average Household Income $55,000 among Blacks, $79,000 among Caucasians.
  • Education: College-Level Degrees 80% among Chinese, versus 73% among Caucasians.
  • Marriage: 63.3% among South Asians, versus 40.2% among Blacks.

Cardiovascular risk profiles — individuals exhibiting two or more risk factors — varied greatly in percentage between the groups:

  • 4.3% among Chinese.
  • 11.1% among Blacks.
  • 7.9% among South Asians.
  • 10.1% among Caucasians.

Paradoxically, despite their relatively worse risk profiles, Blacks turned out to have relatively better actual rates of heart disease and strokes.

The Toronto study did not include American Indians, aka ‘First Nations’ folks, although they are a significant proportion of the population at least in Western Canada. But there was a fairly large-scale study done a couple of decades ago of high-blood-pressure rates among United States Amerindians from Arizona, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and South Dakota, over a period of time. Because of genetic variation among Amerindians from different regions, the results of this study may not totally apply among Amerindians from Canada or from the Eastern United States. This study covered a total of 1846 men and 2703 women, all between the ages of 45 and 74. Blood pressures between Arizona and Oklahoma Amerindians were similar to those for United States residents at large, despite higher rates for Diabetes and for Obesity; whereas, blood pressures for Amerindians from the Dakotas were lower. Blood pressures were higher among Diabetic individuals than among similar non-Diabetic individuals and tended to increase, as people got older, but were less affected by Obesity than in some other populations. The study still concluded that high blood pressure among Amerindians was a serious social and health problem and that proactive treatment measures were urgently needed.

Whatever your skin color or genetic background might be, you need to keep your blood pressure well under control. For years, the medical conventional wisdom has been that people should aim for a systolic blood pressure of at most 120 milligrams of mercury (‘mm/Hg’) and diastolic blood pressure of at most 80 mm/Hg; these two numbers are usually expressed together as 120/80. Recent medical opinion is that even lower blood-pressure target numbers are even better for your life expectancy — maybe 100/70. Anyway, systolic blood pressure is the pressure in your blood vessels at the peak f a heart-pumping stroke (a ‘heartbeat’), and diastolic blood pressure is the pressure when the heart is resting in between pumping strokes; most people have a ‘pulse rate’ in the range of 60 to 100 heartbeats every minute. Instruments used to measure blood pressure are called manometers; the first manometers were glass tubes filled with mercury, which is a heavy metallic element that is liquid at normal room temperatures and is Number 80 in the Periodic Table of Elements. Today, many manometers are purely mechanical, but some still use mercury. For comparison, sea-level atmospheric pressure is about 760 mm/Hg.

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