Black Americans have a shorter life expectancy than whites, and higher rates of heart disease and stroke may be a major reason why, a new American Heart Association statement suggests.
In recent years, life expectancy for blacks was over three years less than for whites — 75.5 years vs. almost 79 years, according to the statement, which was based on a review of more than 300 studies.
Black people have a higher rate of heart attacks, sudden cardiac arrest, heart failure and strokes. Between 1999 and 2010, heart disease and stroke contributed to more than 2 million years of life lost among black people, the researchers said.
Heart disease and stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes also start at an earlier age among black people than white people, the review found.
For example, 14 percent of black children have high blood pressure, compared to 8 percent of white children. Twenty percent of black children aged 2 to 19 are obese, compared to 15 percent of white children. Among adults, 58 percent of black women and 38 percent of black men are obese, compared to 33 percent of white women and 34 percent of white men, the review found.
“It is vital that we start preventing disparities by reaching children and young adults with education about the importance of a healthy lifestyle for maintaining health,” said statement group chair Mercedes Carnethon, an associate professor of preventive medicine (epidemiology) at Northwestern University.
“Young adulthood is a time when a lot of people drop out of the health care system. If there’s no safety net of health care available that emphasizes preventive care, then these disparities in the onset of the risk factors are likely to persist,” she added in a heart association news release.
Poverty is a major factor in the higher rates of heart disease and stroke among black people, but even middle- and upper-class black people are at higher risk than middle- and upper-class white people, the release said.
“Although most people experience stress from jobs and major life events, African-Americans are more likely to have persistent economic stress and to face concerns about maintaining their health, including preventing weight gain and managing chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes,” Carnethon said.
The new statement was published Oct. 23 in Circulation, a heart association publication.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on heart disease risk factors.