Study Finds That Increasing Educational Opportunities May Narrow the Racial Health Gap

A new study led by Kara Whitaker, an assistant professor on the department of health and human psychology at the University of Iowa, finds that better educational opportunities and higher incomes may be key to closing the gap of cardiovascular health behaviors — including smoking, physical activity, and diet quality — between Black and White Americans.

After examining 30 years of data on cardiovascular health behaviors, researchers found that income and educational level influenced the differences in health behaviors between the racial groups more than other variables.

“The gap in education and income are the critical causes,” says Dr. Whitaker. “Societal structure makes it more challenging for Black Americans to have the same level of socioeconomic status as Whites. This study highlights the profound impact of socioeconomic factors, which are mostly beyond an individual’s control, on health behaviors.”

Dr. Whitaker recommends increasing educational opportunities for low-income African Americans. “Making the same educational opportunities available to low-income individuals, regardless of race, would be a great starting point,” Dr. Whitaker says. “A lot of people born into poverty have less opportunity to go to college, for example. That’s one area that could be addressed.”

The study, “Racial Disparities in Cardiovascular Health Behaviors: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study,” was published on the website of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. It may be accessed here.

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