Study Says ‘Interpersonal Racism’ Linked to Heart Problems in Black Women

by State Brief


UPDATED

But health scholar questions findings

“Interpersonal racism” might lead to higher rates of coronary heart disease, according to a recent study.

But a health scholar who spoke to The College Fix questioned the findings.

“Perceived experiences of interpersonal racism in employment, in housing, and with the police were associated with higher incidence of CHD among Black women,” the study from Boston University epidemiologist Shanshan Sheehy concluded. However, “perceived racism in everyday life was not associated with higher risk,” Dr. Sheehy wrote.

She wrote the study, published in the American Heart Association journal, with Michelle Albert, the most recent president of the group. The paper used data from nearly 50,000 black women beginning in 1997.

The study found that after adjusting for multiple variables, the link between racism and heart problems was “no longer statistically significant,” meaning the connection could be explained by chance. 

Sheehy did not respond to two emailed requests for comment on the paper, including the claim “racism is highly prevalent in America.”

The research director at Do No Harm said the extensive data set is a strength of the study, but there are many problems with its designs.

Ian Kingsbury said, “the association [of interpersonal racism] is not significant when it comes to myocardial infarction,” in his emailed comments to The Fix.

When it comes to coronary heart disease, Kingsbury said “there is no association with self-reported racism in everyday life but an association with self-reported discrimination in employment, housing and interactions with police.”

There could be a confounding variable at play.

Kingsbury said those reporting higher levels of racism in everyday life “are more anxious and prone to conflict,” and people with these personality traits have higher incidence of coronary heart disease.

When asked about the strengths of this paper, Kingsbury said the paper “connect[ed] data collected decades ago to contemporary health outcomes.”

Weaknesses included “overstating…findings” as well as a “lack of candor around the limitations of self-reported racism as a measure of actual racism.”

He said the medical community should not use this paper. The results are “unconvincing” he said, when other variables are taken into consideration.

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Kingsbury said, “it’s unclear how [the results] would be actionable” and said there is a growing view doctors are “people who can solve all the world’s problems.”

This often “invites activism into medical training at the expense of technical expertise.”

Other studies have tried to connect police interactions with health problems.

For example, a University of Minnesota researcher found a correlation between police stops in a neighborhood and preterm births. However, the researcher, Rachel Hardeman, could not identify any woman who had an interaction with police and then had a preterm birth.

Furthermore, black immigrant women had better pregnancy outcomes than even white women, according to the study.

That did not stop Hardeman from blaming racism.

“These findings suggest that racialized police patterns borne from a history of racism in the United States may contribute to racial disparity in preterm birth,” the Planned Parenthoodboard member wrote.

Editor’s noteA short explanation of what statistically significant means has been added.

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