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