New research from Berkeley Public Health shows that Black and Hispanic adults who live in racially segregated neighborhoods have a higher risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure) compared to their counterparts in non-segregated areas. The research, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association this month, also indicated that living in a cleaner, safer, and more socially cohesive neighborhood may buffer the harmful effect of segregation on hypertension, especially for Black adults.
The findings are consistent with previous research and contribute to an overall expansion of research in social and environmental factors tied to historical policies that are relevant to today’s health disparities, according to Mahasin Mujahid, co-author of the paper and Chancellor’s Professor of Public Health at Berkeley Public Health.
“It is important to note that racial residential segregation is not just a function of personal preferences to live near people with a shared racial or ethnic background. Instead, it is an important indicator of structural racism that results from both historical and contemporary racially discriminatory policies,” said Xing Gao, MPH, who is a doctoral candidate in Dr. Mujahid’s research group and the paper’s lead author.
Cardiovascular interventions that target the neighborhood environment as a site for investment can work, said Dr. Mujahid, by improving safety and creating a sense of solidarity between community members as well as physical and social order.
Going forward, both Gao and Dr. Mujahid said public health researchers should continue looking closely at environmental racism’s cause and effects.
“Although our study focused on racial residential segregation, we know this is not the full story behind persistent racial and ethnic health inequities,” Gao said. “We urge future studies to deepen our understanding of other mechanisms of structural racism that influence the environments where people of color live. We would also like to see studies that look at the synergistic effects of multiple structural factors, such as gentrification and environmental health.”