Research continues to show that minorities and low-income populations have significantly higher risk for heart disease. These high-risk populations also fare worse after heart attack and stroke than whites. However, it’s often difficult to separate the impact of race and factors like income and education on cardiovascular risk. Socioeconomic status, which takes into account income, education and occupation, is often closely related to race. Blacks are more likely to experience poverty and inequality compared to whites.
In a study recently published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, researchers analyzed data from the Cooperative Cardiovascular Project. Conducted in the mid-1990s, the Cooperative Cardiovascular Project collected data on Medicare patients to help improve heart attack treatment and outcomes.
More than 141,000 patients were included in the study, all of whom were between 65–90 years old at the start of the study and hospitalized for their first heart attack between 1994 and 1996. Using medical records, researchers collected information on participants’ race and residence, and tracked outcomes for as long as 17 years.
Of the 141,095 patients included in the study, 6% were black and 7% lived in low-income areas, as defined by U.S. census data. Black adults were more than four times more likely to live in low-income areas than whites. Across all socioeconomic levels, black patients under 75 years old had significantly lower life expectancies than their white counterparts. However, the greatest gap in life expectancy occurred in patients living in medium- and high-income areas.
Similar to other studies, findings highlight the significant racial disparities that exist when it comes to heart health. Findings also suggest that income and education do not fully explain racial differences in heart attack outcomes. In this study, black and white patients in low-income areas had similar life expectancies after a heart attack. Since the largest gaps in life expectancy occurred in higher income areas, findings suggest that race, alone, has a significant impact on cardiovascular outcomes. Authors encourage further research on the issue and highlight the need for efforts to minimize health disparities in the United States.