Study points to highest risk for mortality for African-American men below poverty line

20 July 2016

African-American men who lived below the poverty line had the lowest overall survival of any group, new research that looked at the effects of sex, race and socioeconomic status has revealed.

According to the study, which involved both white and black men and women, African-American men below poverty levels had almost a 2.7 times higher risk of mortality than African-American men above poverty levels. JAMA Internal Medicine published the results on Monday.

''What's surprising is the magnitude of the difference,'' said coauthor Alan Zonderman, a researcher at the National Institute on Aging, USA Today reported.

The study further revealed that white men above the poverty line ran approximately the same risk as those below, while white and African-American women below poverty levels had a higher risk than those above.

The study conducted over a five period form part a larger study called the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span (HANDLS) study.

The study looked at the intersection of sex, race and socioeconomic status, to separate each effect on mortality.

''Many studies that have been done in the past have looked at poor blacks and rich white, and they have sort of ignored the other combinations,'' Zonderman said. ''We can make comparisons, can look at race, socioeconomic status, and how those two things interact.''

Numerous studies had identified being a racial minority and living below the poverty line as key factors that could contribute to higher mortality for many reasons. While the causes could vary including diet, limited access to quality health care, smoking status and being more vulnerable to violent crime - most of the research had looked at race and poverty together.

The HANDLS study focused on the effects of race and economic status on mortality separately.

Those results suggested that African-American men were especially vulnerable to early death, but  whether this had to do with biology, lifestyle or other factors was not clear from the study. But according to Dr Michele Evans, deputy scientific director of NIA and one of the co-authors, the team would continue to study the population to isolate these factors.

''We are trying to understand what social determinants turn biologic processes in different directions and lead to differential longevity,'' she says, reported. ''As well as understand how they contribute to higher incidences of chronic diseases that occur much earlier in lower socioeconomic populations, particularly among minority Americans.''

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