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Hopkins researchers find place, rather than race, may be greater determinant of health

Of all the variables that contribute to health disparities, where patients live may be more significant than their race, according to findings published in the latest issue of Health Affairs.

In the small study (subscription required), researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined and interviewed adults living in two communities in Baltimore, where the population consisted of at least 35 percent African-American and 35 percent white residents. Both groups of residents had similar levels of income and education. In addition to conducting in-person interviews and measuring volunteers' blood pressure, researchers used information from nation-wide health surveys to compare national and study-site data for obesity, smoking, diabetes, hypertension and health services.

Their results showed that, with the exception of smoking, nationally reported disparities in hypertension, diabetes and obesity among participants and use of health services disappeared or narrowed. The findings led researchers to conclude that racial differences in social environments explained a significant portion of disparities typically found in national data.

Co-author of the study Darrell Gaskin, PhD, discussed the significance of the findings from a public health policy perspective in a university release:

Policies aimed solely at health behavior change, biological differences among racial groups, or increased access to health care are limited in their ability to close racial disparities in health. A more effective policy approach would be to address the differing resources of neighborhoods and improve the underlying conditions of health for all.

Previously: Study shows deaths from acute leukemia higher in minority patients, Being healthy out of financial reach for some families, Surgeon's memoir calls for an end to health disparities, Seniors help build a blueprint for a healthier city, Living near fast food restaurants influences California teens' eating habits and Using GIS technology to visualize urban 'food deserts'
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