W2 Reflection: Hypertension in African American

The intersection between race, genetics, and health is certainly a developing study and there are several hypotheses. Yet and still there are a few ideas that have proven to remain constant among medical anthropology researchers. Race is not a biologically based concept therefore it also does not have a concrete correlation with genetics. Genetic variation among races is not great enough to account for measurable differences in health that has been observed. Although, there has been communities that experienced long term genetic variation resulting in adaptation to disease, like the relationship between the sickle cell trait and adaptation to malaria on the coast of West Africa. They have been close knit and do not tend to reproduce outside of their communities allowing the trait to travel through generations. Their genes remain consistent while the genes of such a broad group as an entire race is very inconsistent and variable.

In lieu of my further explanation health disparity similarities among race groups, I’ll use hypertension (or high blood pressure) among African Americans. Hypertension is the consistent increase of the pressure of blood flow against the wall of one’s arteries (blood vessel flowing from the heart). If left untreated hypertension can cause great harm to one’s cardiovascular system. The question becomes: Why are African Americans especially susceptible to hypertension? There is no concrete explanation but there are some interesting theories. While exploring theory it is important to keep in mind that several unknowns exist in the genetic background of the African American prior to arriving in the United States So we’ll be considering the only logical explanations which are environmental, nutritional, or climatic adaptation. A theory found in an American Heart Association article entitled “Why do Black Americans have higher Prevalence of Hypertension?” by Falvio D. Fuchs I must say is the most thought provoking of all. It is named the “slavery hypertension hypothesis”. The theory hypothesizes that because of diarrhea, vomiting, and heat exhaustion occurring aboard slave ships (during the Transatlantic Slave Trade) the bodies of the African American slave retained salt as an adaptation to the lost of the body’s sodium chloride content as a result of the previously mentioned illnesses. Like the Pena Indian example in our lecture, a nutritional adaptation can last several generations in an ethnic group even when the conditions that caused the adaptation no longer exist.

While most Americans besides the Native Americans have some sort of history of immigration to the United States, African Americans have a very specific story of “immigration” to the United States. That’s why I believe that their higher prevalence of hypertension lies within that difference. As shown by the following chart Black Americans are almost twice as likely to suffer from hypertension than any other group in the United States.






Falvio D. Fuchs. “Why Do Blacks American have a higher prevalence of Hypertension?” American Heart Association, February 7, 2011. Accessed: July 14, 2016. http://hyper.ahajournals.org/content/57/3/379.full


Yoon SS, Burt V, Louis T, Carroll MD. Hypertension among adults in the United States, 2009–2010. NCHS data brief, no 107. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2012. Aceessed: July 14, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db107.htm


One thought on “W2 Reflection: Hypertension in African American

  1. Hey Victoria!

    I think you did a really good job in explaining the relationship between race, genetics and health and covered a lot of what I had mentioned in my post. I believe you spent a great deal talking about how genetics plays a role in race and health but I think it would be beneficial to consider the environmental factors as well. The film “Place Matters” focused on discussing how environmental factors play a significant role in the health of those who live in specific environments. For example, people may be exposed to harmful chemical agents, social agents, violence and crime as well has having little access to the resources necessary to live a healthy lifestyle like nutritious food.

    In my opinion I believe racial categories are somewhat useful in clinical studies. I am aware that there is very little difference between races because they are socially constructed but there are plenty of examples that show differences in different groups of people. For example, you mentioned that African Americans had to adapt to arriving to the U.S. environmentally, nutritionally and possibly climatically. The film called “Becoming American” also talked about how the Latinos or “New Americans” became unhealthy as they spent more time in the U.S. also due to adaptation. I think clinical studies would have significant results if they used people who were new to the U.S. and were in the process of adapting because they are most unlike the people who already live here. Once these different groups of people spend more time here they become more and more “Americanized” and show little difference to everyone else.

    A better way of talking about racial health disparities would be to discuss them in terms of groups of people by maybe their gender, sexual orientation, income, disability, etc. These are things that have stricter boundaries for lack of a better word. Although these categories can also stir up some debate and questions, I believe they are more beneficial that talking about health disparities in terms of race.

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