For the last 17 years, investigators at Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center
have been conducting a one-of-a-kind study to better understand the health of African
Principle investigators for the study, Dr. Lynn Rosenberg and Dr. Julie Palmer say
the study began in 1995 out of the need to pay special attention to a group often
misrepresented or left out all together in studies on American health.
“When we started this study we thought the only way to have meaningful information
was to design the study and have it restricted to African American women,” said Palmer.
“You can’t just study one group of people and say everything relates to everyone else. There are cultural differences, genetic and biological differences, and sometimes people just believe results more if they come from their own group.”
The study is still in progress and has followed 59,000 women between the ages of 21 and 69 for nearly two decades to see what different conditions have manifested in the Black community among women.
Surveys have been sent to the women every two years and participants then report what changes, if any, have developed in their bodies. No women have been added to the study after the initial group was selected.
Information sent in on the survey is confirmed, when possible, through hospital
pathology records and registries, such as the cancer registry, in each state.
Findings from the study show many important links between social, mental, and physical health that have never before been focused on.
“We took information that women had provided about experiences of racism in their
everyday lives on the job, in housing, and by police. We looked at that association and found that among women under age 50 there appeared to be a link,” said Rosenberg.
“The incidence of breast cancer was higher among women who had more experiences of racism. This suggests that psychological stress might be a risk for breast cancer, at least among younger women.”
The information gathered showed that of the 59,000, cancer developed in 3,500 women. Of that number 1,700 had breast cancer.
Of the 59,000 women, 45,000 are still a part of the study today.
Palmer, senior epidemiologist at Boston University’s Slone Epidemiological Center, says that many of the conclusions of the study are the first of their kind, and are currently being tested by other medical organizations. Included among their findings:
* Slone researchers found that black women with high intake of dairy products have a
reduced incidence of uterine fibroids after studying an estimated 6,500 women in the
study with fibroids and
*Type two diabetes occurs at a higher instance among minorities with no regular exercise regimen, following analysis of 5,900 in the study.
“It has increased my level of awareness in terms of watching out for signs and also
educating folks that I interact with within my family, my professional and personal
network,” said participant Dr. Ellen Grant, 63, of Buffalo, NY, who began her career as a nurse and now works in mental health.
“I decided to take part in the study because it was groundbreaking thought and I believe it is groundbreaking research in Black women’s health for this country,” said Grant, who learned about the study from an article in Essence Magazine.
“What I’ve learned is how important it is to take care of my heart health in terms of the fact that so many women are now having heart attacks. It’s important to know all of the signs. Indigestion in and of itself is not just indigestion but it could be the early signs of a heart attack.”
Scientists and doctors alike hope that the information collected will lead to a better
understanding of how African American women develop certain conditions, and the best ways to avoid them.
“Our motto in the study is ‘Knowledge is power,” said Rosenberg, who has been in
medical research for 34 years. “The more Black women know about their health and what negatively affects their health- the better they’ll be able to take steps to improve their health.”