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Air Pollution Contributes to Health Disparities

CardioSmart News

While the driving forces behind health disparities are complex, a recent study suggests air pollution is one factor that contributes to increased heart risks among black adults.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, this study explored the association between air pollution and heart risks in blacks.

Air pollution is known to increase risk for heart disease—the leading cause of death in U.S. adults. Since blacks are at greater risk for heart disease than whites, experts wondered if air pollution could be in part to blame for this health disparity.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the HeartSCORE study, which assesses racial disparities in cardiovascular risk. The study included 1,717 middle-aged adults from Pittsburgh, PA, all of which completed annual health exams for roughly eight years.

Nearly half of participants were black and two-thirds were women.

Researchers used participants’ home addresses to estimate their exposure to air pollution. After analysis, they found that blacks had both higher exposure to air pollution and higher risk for heart disease compared to whites.

Overall, blacks had greater exposure to fine particulate matter and black carbon, both of which are dangerous forms of air pollution. Increased exposure to fine particulate matter was associated with higher blood sugar and poorer arterial function. After analysis, researchers found that blacks had 45% greater risk for heart events and death than whites.

Analysis showed that part of the increased heart risks were due to higher exposure to air pollution. However, air pollution only explained part of this association, suggesting other factors also contribute to increased cardiovascular risk.

According to authors, findings confirm the negative effects of air pollution on heart health. Studies continue to show that long-term exposure to air pollution can worsen or even trigger heart conditions. Experts encourage the public to limit exposure to air pollution when possible to avoid negative health effects.

On an even broader level, however, findings show how complex the causes of health disparities can be. Health disparities are likely caused by a number of factors, such as income, education, and access to health care. In this study, where people live and their exposure to air pollution is one of many factors influencing risk for heart disease.

Unfortunately, that also means addressing health disparities is complex, since there is no single cause. Still, experts hope with future research, we can better understand the driving forces behind health disparities and develop ways to address them.

Learn about CardioSmart's editorial process. Information provided for educational purposes only. Please talk to your health care professional about your specific needs.