Evanston, Ill. - October 16, 2008 Two new articles examine the theory of "fetal programming" and their effect on racial health disparities. The studies, published in American Journal of Human Biology, suggest that the higher rates of hypertension and cardiovascular disease present in African Americans may be a consequence of low birth weights, and that these low birth weights may be a result of social rather than genetic factors.
It is well-established that the nutritional and psychological state of a pregnant mother can influence whether her child will later develop cardiovascular disease as an adult. Nutrients and hormones present in the womb shape a fetus's development, in part by silencing certain genes in the body. These influences can persist into later life to impact adult health. Researchers from Northwestern University argue that such intergenerational impacts of environmental factors could help explain black-white differences in cardiovascular health in the U.S.
"A pregnant African American mother's experience of well documented stressors, including social forces such as discrimination and racism, could have lingering effects on diseases like hypertension, diabetes and heart attacks in her children," says Christopher Kuzawa and Elizabeth Sweet, who co-authored this piece. By synthesizing this new evidence, they argue that social forces, rather than genes, may underlie the problem of racial inequity in heart attacks and strokes in the U.S.
In a related editorial in the journal, Peter Ellison, Editor-in-Chief, explains that some of the most persistent health disparities in the United States occur between African Americans and European Americans. The causes of those disparities are many and their roots are deep. They are entwined with the history of slavery and discrimination, with rural and inner city neglect, with differential wealth and differential access to health care, with cultural traditions and cultural bias
|Contact: Sean Wagner|