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History May Influence Racial Health Disparities

Slavery nutrition may affect birth weight in blacks; epigenetics may be linked to cardiovascular disease

FRIDAY, Oct. 24 (HealthDay News) -- The lower average birth weight in African Americans than European Americans may be due in part to nutritional factors their ancestors experienced during slavery, and low birth weight and factors contributing to it, in turn, may influence later race-based health disparities in adulthood, according to two articles published online Oct. 16 in the American Journal of Human Biology.

In the first report, Grazyna Jasienska, Ph.D., of Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, writes that birth weight among African Americans is roughly 250 grams less on average than birth weight in European Americans -- but African-born women living in the United States have higher birth-weight babies than black American women with slave ancestry. Factors that may play a role include the nutrition and workload of slavery-era mothers during their childhood and around pregnancy, with too few generations in the intervening time to counteract the multigenerational effects of nutritional intervention, the author writes.

In another report, Christopher W. Kuzawa, Ph.D., and Elizabeth Sweet, of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., write that birth outcomes play an important role in predicting adult cardiovascular health in African Americans, and the higher rates of low birth weight babies to these mothers are linked to environmental and psychosocial factors, such as maternal stress related to discrimination. As a result, epigenetic and developmental processes may influence race-based health disparities in the United States, they write.

These articles bring "a new and expanding appreciation for the factors influencing human developmental plasticity to bear on the problem of persistent U.S. health disparities, conceived as a biocultural phenomenon. The contributions in these papers are in the form of new hypotheses, new ways of thinking about the problem of persistent health disparities that, if pursued and validated, may suggest new approaches to treatment, intervention and amelioration," writes journal editor Peter T. Ellison, in an accompanying editorial.

Abstract - Jasienska
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Abstract - Kuzawa
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