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Environment May Play Role in Racial Health Disparities

Society affects biology, researchers say

THURSDAY, Sept. 10, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- The differences in health between racial groups may have more to do with how people look at each other than with genetics, a new study suggests.

"We have to take seriously the way race shapes people's experiences, the environments they live in and their life chances," study author Clarence C. Gravlee, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Florida, said in a university news release.

"In day-to-day life, people often assume that race exists as biology," Gravlee added. "Most anthropologists and geneticists reject that idea and see race instead as a cultural construct. The point of our paper is that race is so embedded in our society that it affects biology by shaping the types of environments that people live in."

For example, researchers found that it was easier to predict high blood pressure by looking at "social classification" instead of gene-based ancestry.

The study, published online Sept. 9 in the journal PLoS ONE, tries to determine how culture and genes contribute to inequalities in health.

According to the researchers, racial minorities in general are sicker than whites and die earlier.

More information

Learn more about minority health from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

SOURCE: University of Florida, news release, Sept. 8, 2009
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