Heart Problems: Racism Increases Risk of Death from Heart Disease - Dispatch Weekly

September 9, 2016 - Reading time: 6 minutes

 A study published in Psychological Science by psychological scientist Jordan Leitner et al, from University of California, Berkeley, suggests that people who live in communities with high levels of overt racism are more likely to die from heart disease and other circulatory diseases, being a prominent problem for African American individuals.

The Study

Leitner and co-authors analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control on health risks and death rates from circulatory diseases. This included heart attacks, angina, and coronary heart disease, across the US, from 2003-2013.

They then compared the data with racially biased data from 1.4 million White Americans nationwide in more than 1,700 US countries, through Project Implicit.

This is website where anyone can take brief tests that measure explicit and implicit biases regarding race, religion and gender.

Photo Credit: CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Categorization, Response Time and Implicit Bias

Project Implicit participants saw a series of faces on a computer screen, using specific keys to categorize faces as ‘Black’ or ‘White.’

There were positive and negative words such as: ‘peace,’ ‘joy,’ ‘nasty,’ and ‘agony.’ They then used keys to label this as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’

Response times showed the researchers if the individual had an implicit bias as the quicker the response, the more implicit the attitude.

Photo Credit: atherosclerosis.conferenceseries.com/2016
Photo Credit: atherosclerosis.conferenceseries.com/2016

Project Implicit participants rated their feelings of warmth towards ‘White’ and ‘Black’ people on a scale of 0-10.

The researchers looked into many factors such as: age, income, education, population, rural versus urban, that might affect health.

Health Links to Racism

Data suggested that African American people reported less access to healthcare in countries where Caucasian respondents were more explicitly biased.

However, there was no relationship between overt bias and healthcare access for Caucasian participants.

Furthermore, for both groups, there was no link between implicit bias and healthcare.

African Americans More Likely to Die From Circulatory Disease

African Americans are more likely to die from circulatory disease in countries that had a higher level of overt racial bias. This was a stronger link for African Americans than it was for Caucasians. In the study there was a gap in perceived access to affordable health care.

African Americans living in more bigoted communities reported having less access to affordable health care

However, Caucasians reported relatively high access to affordable health care. This was regardless of the racial bias of their community.

Racial Discrimination and Stress

Leitner said, “One possibility is that blacks in racially hostile communities experience lower quality health care, or may avoid seeking health care, even if it is available, because they feel like they won’t be treated fairly.”

He added that the study reinforces the power of overt racism. This has been prominent in the public consciousness, particularly in relation to the #blacklivesmatter campaign across America highlighting recent police brutality.


Leitner said, “It’s become more normative over the past 40 years to be egalitarian, and being labeled a racist is stigmatizing in many communities”.

Whilst explicit racism is perceived to be on the decline, Leitner added, “it’s still a powerful predictor of how whites and blacks fare health-wise in a community.”

DW Staff

David Lintott is the Editor-in-Chief, leading our team of talented freelance journalists. He specializes in covering culture, sport, and society. Originally from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, he attributes his insightful world-weariness to his roots in this unique setting.