A study involving more than 2,000 Blacks found that those who moved from the most-segregated neighborhoods to less-segregated neighborhoods later experienced lower systolic blood pressure, a factor in heart attacks and strokes. The report, published on June 1 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, followed Black people over time to see how leaving segregated communities could affect the risk of heart disease.
Kiarri Kershaw, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University, and her colleagues followed 2,280 Blacks participating in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study. “This study provides stronger, more direct evidence that segregation impacts blood pressure and harms the health of African Americans. I believe it’s related to the stress of living in these neighborhoods,” Kershaw said in a statement. “In a less violent area with better resources, you are more secure about your family’s safety and your children’s future in better schools. You see opportunities for the economic mobility of your kids and here is better access to good grocery stores, health care, and an economically vital business district.”
The researchers followed the subjects for 25 years. Those who moved away from highly segregated neighborhoods to less-segregated neighborhoods and stayed there during that period had significantly lower blood pressure.
In addition, those neighborhoods may also make it easier to live healthier lifestyles by having more access to parks, sidewalks, gyms, grocery stores with more fresh produce and pharmacies to get medication.
Kershaw acknowledges, however, that moving to less segregated neighborhoods could increase stress in at least one way — by potentially exposing Blacks to more racism. “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 said. Kershaw noted that Blacks living in more segregated neighborhoods tend to have better mental and emotional health.
Edward Preston, a D.C.-based African-American attorney told the AFRO that while the research may seem conclusive, it only scratches the surface of stressors related to racialized neighborhoods. Having moved from Northeast to a home in Olney, Md. a decade ago, Preston said the age, socioeconomics, and racial tone of the neighborhood play significantly in raising or lowering blood pressure.
His own blood pressure stayed relatively stable, until the birth of his children and concerns arose over how they would encounter race in a predominantly White enclave.
“Move into a community where your neighbors are hostile towards or fearful of Blacks and it does anything but lower your blood pressure. Add to that having children you fear may encounter suburban watch groups or rogue police officers, and this study goes out the window,” Preston told the AFRO. “Surely there are other factors beyond access that involve inclusion, that bring down stressors that negatively impact blood pressure.”