Racial Segregation Still Exists — & It Has A Devastating Effect On Health

Photographed by Megan Madden.
It's been proven that experiencing racism can negatively affect mental health as well as increase stress. Now, researchers have found that something in particular might be causing higher blood pressure in Black adults: segregated neighborhoods.
A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that when Black adults in America moved to less segregated neighborhoods, they had lower systolic blood pressure, a factor that can contribute to heart attacks and strokes.
For the study, researchers looked at 2,280 subjects living in highly segregated neighborhoods in Chicago, Minneapolis, Birmingham, and Oakland. Researchers followed the subjects for 25 years, starting in 1985, and found that those who moved to less segregated neighborhoods had a systolic blood pressure level that was lower by around one to five points. That may seem like a small number, but it's significant that the difference was seen amongst such a large group of people.
"The big message here is that this study shines a light on one of the root causes of heart disease and stroke in our country," David Goff, director of the division of cardiovascular diseases at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, told NPR.
While it's been proven before that experiencing racism is associated with higher blood pressure, this new study points to the specific ramifications of segregation. In fact, the takeaway, authors wrote, was that "policies that reduce racial residential segregation may have meaningful health benefits, such as reductions in blood pressure."
Kiarri Kershaw, author of the study, told NPR that a number of factors could explain this effect. For example, less-segregated neighborhoods could provide more economic opportunities and reduce stress, or that these neighborhoods could provide more opportunities for a healthier lifestyle. However, Kershaw acknowledged that there may also be drawbacks to less-segregated neighborhoods.
"It's certainly possible that those who move to less segregated neighborhoods experience more exposure to racism, which could be one reason why some African-Americans choose to stay in more segregated neighborhoods," she told NPR, noting that African-Americans living in more segregated neighborhoods tend to have better mental health.
That being said, the study further proves that segregation still exists — and it may be contributing to devastating racial health disparities.
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