W1: Hypertension and Race, What’s the Correlation?

To understand what the (if any) relationship between Hypertension and Race is we must first understand both entities. Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure, which can lead to ailments such as heart attacks, stroke and even kidney disease. Medically there are known lifestyle risks that increase risk of hypertension; smoking, a high salt diet, alcohol and an increased body weight. However, it is a common thought that African Americans are at an increased risk. In fact one of our class activities by RACE – Health Connections, discusses this conception showing that there is a correlation to people of color with hypertension. “American Heart Association figures show that over 40% of African American adults live with chronic hypertension (also known as high blood pressure), compared to 30% of their white counterparts” but is this a correlation or a causation?

If we look at race on the other hand, as we learned in the the lecture Americans associate race with skin color, and that most people assume that genetically those of different race “color” are also diverse. This is a fallacy, and race does not exist. Genetically there are no markers that can tell a persons race. One paper by Richard Cooper, discusses the correlation between hypertension and race and concluded that there is in fact no physiological difference between African Americans and other ethnic groups. Therefore there is no way that the genetics of an African American give higher incidence rate of hypertension.

So that begs the question why is it that African Americans do in fact show higher incidence rate of hypertension? The answer is very disheartening as it does have to do with the color of skin, but it is a mental causation and not genetic. The answer is that an African American undergoes more stress, due to the color of their skin, than other ethnic groups. And other studies have effectively correlated mental distress to increased risk of hypertension. So in just it is not genetics or race but it is racial discrimination.

It is important to note this is not the only example, similar misconceptions are seen in sickle cell disease, which has more to do with ancestral origin than skin color.

So based on this, if a friend asked me what race was I would respond with this. Race is an objectified way people have classified people most commonly through skin color. It is solely used in social discourse and is in no way a biological distinction between ethnic groups as biologically you can not classify someone socially or more specifically to current nuances, by the color of their skin.


Richard S. Cooper, Jay S. Kaufman, “Statement of Opinion,” Hypertension 32 (1998): 813-816

Race Health Connection,” last modified 2016, http://www.understandingrace.org/humvar/looks_hyper01.html

One thought on “W1: Hypertension and Race, What’s the Correlation?

  1. The angle is you have presented is profound. You used a common example of a health issue (hypertension) that has often been associated with race. The case you presented is that African Americans who have higher incidents of hypertension is not due to a difference in race. I agree with this completely. However, I wish to build on the notion of why the incidence is higher. You posited that this health disparity is due to more stress among African Americans. While I agree this is a contributing factor and I wish to build on that. The health care disparity has to do with implicit and explicit institutional discrimination against African-Americans. The social stratification of the African Americans in the United States has resulted in uncomprehensive health care for this population often leaving them in underserved.
    It’s also important to look at the effect of ethnicity and health care. Race is a term that is too broad, invalid, and undefined and it doesn’t incorporate cultural lifestyles which may lead to disparities in health. Ethnicities is a better term as it includes cultural practices. Cultural practices can also create a flip side to the case you presented. The obvious example of this is the better health of foreign immigrants compared to normal Americans when they immigrate to the United States. This is due to cultural differences in ethnicities rather than race and I believe it’s important to point this out.

Leave a Reply