|TABLE 1. Parkinson’s disease cases and population by gender, age, race/ethnicity, and year, Kaiser Permanente, 1994–1995
* Person-years by race/ethnicity are for age 30 years or older.
|Gender (all ages)
According to the Willis et al. study from 2010 (and illustrated from the table above, reproduced from the Eeden et al. study of 2003), the neurodegenerative condition Parkinson’s disease afflicts a disproportionate number of Caucasians and Hispanics as compared to African Americans and Asians. In the Willis study in particular, whites and Hispanics developed Parkinson’s at twice the rate of blacks and Asians. Genetic variables are predicted to explain only a small fraction of the variance between groups; rather, Willis speculated that that, “Environmental factors are likely more common contributors and may include prolonged exposures to herbicides and insecticides used in farming or to metals such as copper, manganese and lead” (News Medical). Another proposed reason for the difference was presence of a gene in those of Asian or African ancestry that confers protection from the disease.
Instead of a tangible, objective biological category, race is a social construct used to justify social hierarchies and oppression, discrimination, and persecution of certain groups and the privilege afforded to others. As cited in Taz’s lecture, genetic determinism is the notion that genetic endowment dictates our temperaments, behavior, intelligence, and health; in other words, the arbitrary demarcations between ‘races’ are used as a proxy for genetics such that overarching assumptions about health and disease predispositions are inferred. This theory is used to equate biological race and genetic similarities. For instance, BiDil designed and marketed its product for hypertension based on racial bifurcations based on health disparities between ‘races’, although such inequalities in heart disease are most likely owed to extraneous variables such as SES, prejudice, differential access to healthy food, less health insurance, etc. In reality, a constellation of factors including social, cultural, behavioral, psychological, and physiological parameters determine health outcomes, though Western medicine tends to favor biological explanations for divergent health over cultural or environmental ones.
News Medical. Editor. 2010. 13 July 2012 < http://www.news-medical.net/news/20100128 /Epidemiological-study-shows-Parkinsons-disease-is-more-common-among-whites-and-Hispanics.aspx>.
Van Den Eeden, S.K., Tanner, C.M, Bernstein, A.L, Fross, R.D., Leimpeter, A., Block, D.A., & Nelson, L.M. (2003). “Incidence of Parkinson’s Disease: Variation by Age, Gender, and Race/Ethnicity”. American Journal of Epidemiology, 157(11): 1015-1022.
Willis, A.W., Evanoff, B.A., Lian, M., Criswell, S.R., & Racette, B.A. (2010). “Geographic and Ethnic Variation in Parkinson Disease: A Population-Based Study of US Medicare Beneficiaries”. Neuroepidemiology, 34: 143-151.