W2 Reflection: Heart disease among Caucasian males

Heart Disease Age-Adjusted Death Rates by Race/Ethnicity, California 2000-2008

As discussed in this weeks lectures on race and genetics it is clear that there is no agreed upon connection between the two. There are obviously genetic differences that encode for superficial features such as skin color, but are there any genetic differences beyond the superficial? This is where the debate comes into play and where anthropologists are unable to come to an agreed upon answer. By looking at the graph above you can see that there is a clear trend showing higher rates of heart disease among certain races and lower rates among others. However, is this trend due to genetics or is it related more to the cultures generally associated with each race?

In this graph you can see that heart disease is highest among blacks, pacific islanders, and whites, and lowest among Hispanics, American Indians, Asians, and mixed races. According to the CDC heart disease was the number one leading cause of death among white males in 2007. While white males may not be at the highest rate for heart disease in this graph, there is a clear divide between the three races with the highest rates and the races with lower rates. There can be no certain reason for why these three races have higher rates than the others, however there are many possibilities. As discussed in this weeks lectures, some researchers believe there is a genetic link between disease and certain races and other researchers believe genetics has nothing to do with it. I believe that there is a combination of genetic factors and socio-cultural factors. Heart disease is a disease that people can be genetically predisposed to and will have a higher chance of developing. However it is unclear if this genetic predisposition is racially linked or not. It is more likely not linked to race but rather family history. A more likely explanation for why heart disease is higher among certain groups categorized racially is due to culture. Certain lifestyles, diets, and activity levels associated with these racially divided groups are likely culprits  for the increased rates.


CDC. “10 leading causes of death; white population, US., 2007.” http://www.cdc.gov/omhd/Populations/White.htm.

California Department of Public Health . “Race/ethnic group differences .” http://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/ohir/Pages/Heart2008Race.aspx.

One thought on “W2 Reflection: Heart disease among Caucasian males

  1. Hi Colin,

    I really like your analysis on the health disparities between Caucasians and other races and then the differences between the other races to each other. This graph really does present an interesting situation on the question of racial links to different diseases. I too was conflicted on this topic and I agree with your suggestion that perhaps the issue isn’t based on singularity. One of the socio-economic factors that may come into play that you suggest may add to this disparity is how racially segregated people can be based on de jure and de facto situations. An example of this is how China Towns were brought up and how they were originally created to cluster Asian-Americans together due to racial tensions. Discussed on the “Unnatural Causes: Place Matters” episode, this illustrates how location can really affect health and since different races may have a tendency to group in different locations in some cities, this may explain one factor. It still doesn’t explain everything as no race is perfectly segregated into one location and no race is fully susceptible to disease so I do believe as well that more research on genetic predisposition needs to be made to fully determine causality. Till then, I think that racial categorization can be useful for clinicians and patients alike because when it comes to health, prevention is the best measure. It may seem wrong to split patients based on race because of the fact that we are all human beings and some may think we should focus on humanity as a whole but I have the belief that it is disingenuous to categorize everyone as the same because this heavily downplays diversity. Instead of trying to undermine differences between races, I believe we should celebrate and be tolerant of these differences.

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