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Racial Disparities Impact Heart Health Despite Access to Education

A study shows that educational attainment is linked to better heart health but not equally across races highlighting racial disparities impact on equitable heart health.

Individuals with a higher level of education were found to have better cardiovascular health (CVH). Still, the benefits of education do not persist across non-White racial and ethnic groups, according to recent findings published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The study by researchers at UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute and University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine explored the association between race, education, and CVH instead of cardiovascular.

Researchers determined participants' CVH through the Life's Simple Seven (LS7) metric. The tool defines ideal cardiovascular health through seven risk factors: smoking status, physical activity, weight, diet, blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure.

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers analyzed 7,771 individuals who were at least 25-years-old, free of cardiovascular disease, and had completed data for an LS7 score. 

When comparing educational attainment to heart health, researchers found that participants with a college degree were 4.12 times more likely to have an ideal CVH compared to those who did not have a high school degree.

However, the study findings showed that a higher education level does not outweigh the effect of race on CVH for Black individuals. 

Researchers discovered that White participants with a graduate-level education had the most significant probability of ranking higher in an LS7 category. In addition, non-Hispanic White participants with a bachelor's degree had a four-fold increased odds for ideal CVH.

"We know that educational attainment can improve measures of CVH, but we found that Black individuals with a higher level of education are less likely to obtain ideal CVH," Amber Johnson, MD, MS, MBA, UPMC cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Pitt, said in a press release.

Hispanic and Black participants with the highest level of educational attainment did not achieve similar CVH results compared to White participants. In fact, Hispanics with a bachelor's degree or higher education level only experienced a three-fold increase for ideal CVH. For Black individuals, that odds ratio was two-fold.

"Although higher educational attainment and other improved socioeconomic factors may be expected to confer improved health outcomes, racially minoritized people in the higher strata may continue to encounter barriers that dampen the potential health benefits of upward social mobility found among the racial majority," Johnson said.

Johnson highlighted that additional effort is necessary to understand the societal barriers preventing non-White individuals from attaining ideal CVH. 

"It's important to interpret these study results with the understanding that there are structural barriers and policy solutions that need to be considered to address these findings," Johnson said. "It boils down to the fact that these challenges include the social and structural determinants of health that need to be addressed."

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