Education trumps genetics as a predictor of high blood pressure in African Americans, according to a new study led by a Harvard School of Public Health researcher. The findings dispel the widespread belief that West African ancestry is a primary contributor of the high rates of hypertension in African Americans, who also are more likely to suffer complications including stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, and dementia, from the disease.
Lead author Amy Non, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar, and her colleagues examined data from nearly 3,700 self-identified white and African American adults participating in the Family Blood Pressure Program Study. They found that, among African American participants, education level but not genetic ancestry was a significant predictor of blood pressure. Each year of education was associated with a drop in blood pressure, leading Non and her colleagues to predict that four years of additional education would result in a decrease of 2 mmHg systolic (the top number) blood pressure, a decrease that could contribute to a reduction in hypertension-related deaths. Mean blood pressure did not differ significantly by education level among white participants.
“While genetics undoubtedly plays a role in hypertension, our findings suggest that education level plays an even larger role in health disparities in hypertension,” Non said in a June 15, 2012 MSN Health story. “This means that improved access to education among African Americans may reduce racial disparities in blood pressure.”
Exposing the roots of health disparities (Harvard Public Health Review)