Individuals with higher education backgrounds tend to have better health outcomes relating to their heart and cardiovascular systems. But a new study led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh finds that the benefits of higher education to heart health are unequal for different racial and ethnic groups.
Researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey on 7,771 individuals who were at least 25-years-old and free of cardiovascular disease. They rated each individual on smoking behavior, body mass index, physical activity, diet, total cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose.
The results showed that participants with a college degree were 4.12 times more likely to have an ideal cardiovascular health rating compared to those who did not have a high school degree. But for Black individuals, the benefits of higher education on cardiovascular health were far less. They were only twice as likely to have an idea cardiovascular health rating as lower educated Blacks.
The authors write: “The pattern of differential race‐based health outcomes, irrespective of educational status, is consistent with the theory that racial minority groups do not gain the same degree of protective effects of elevated socioeconomic status as do those who are White. Although higher educational attainment and other improved socioeconomic factors may be expected to confer improved health outcomes, racially minoritized people in the higher strata may continue to encounter barriers that dampen the potential health benefits of upward social mobility found among the racial majority.”
“It’s important to interpret these study results with the understanding that there are structural barriers and policy solutions that need to be considered to address these findings,” said Amber Johnson, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and the lead author of the study. “It boils down to the fact that these challenges include the social and structural determinants of health that need to be addressed.”
The full study, “Educational Attainment, Race, and Ethnicity as Predictors for Ideal Cardiovascular Health: From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey,” was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. It may be accessed here.