January 26, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 4

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Study examines factors underlying disparities in health outcomes

A study published in the December issue of American Sociological Review examines the disparities between black and white Americans in terms of chronic health conditions suffered from ages 51 to 63. Co-authors include Dr. Toni P. Miles, professor in the department of family and community medicine.

Black men have a shorter life expectancy than white men, studies show. Hypertension, diabetes and stroke occur with greater frequency among both black men and women than among middle-aged whites. The same is true for vision problems, depression and incidence of disability. "People talk about the racial gap, but in general nobody looks at why it exists," Dr. Miles says. "Our paper is an addition to the literature in this field."

Highlights of the research include:

  • developing six models containing life-cycle variables that give clues to the role of race in comparison to other aspects of life experiences and chronic health conditions;
  • finding that the introduction of a single variable, education, substantially reduces the effect of race on incidence rates of diabetes, stroke, depression, vision and hearing impairment, and work disability;
  • concluding that racial differences in smoking, drinking, body mass and exercise do not appear to be the "primary conduits" accounting for racial differences in disease onset in middle age.

Other study authors are Drs. Mark Hayward of Penn State University, Eileen Crimmins of the University of Southern California and Yu Yang of the University of Maryland at Baltimore.