Black Women Tend to Suffer Disabilities Earlier, Study Finds

Lower income, lack of medical care can affect long-term health, researchers say

FRIDAY, Sept. 30, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Black women are likely to develop physical limitations earlier in life than others their age, according to a new study.

Researchers from Case Western University in Cleveland analyzed self-reported information on the mobility, strength and physical limitations of more than 8,700 older people included in the 1994-2006 U.S. Health and Retirement Study. The participants ranged from 53 to 75 years old.

The study found a higher rate of physical problems among black women in their 50s and 60s in the study of black, Mexican-American and white men and women.

"We could not find the reason why African-American women developed limitations faster than other gender and racial/ethnic groups," said David Warner, assistant professor of sociology, in a university news release.

After their mid-60s, however, the rate at which disabilities occurred among black women began to decrease, and by age 75 the rate leveled off, the study found.

For the study, recently published in Social Science & Medicine, the researchers also examined the participants' early life experiences, socioeconomic status, marital status and health-related behaviors to determine how these factors might affect people's disabilities.

Men of all racial and ethnic groups fared better than women, the study found. Better-educated, wealthier men, in particular, reported fewer physical health issues.

Women are at greater risk for disadvantages, such as lower incomes and lack of health care in midlife, which may have lifelong effects, the researchers said.

At age 75, Mexican-American women fared worst -- with nearly five disabling limitations, twice as many on average as white men -- the study found.

The study authors said future research should address the unique health experiences of older black women. Preventive efforts are also needed to eliminate racial- and gender-related functional health disparities, they said.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health funded the investigation.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on racial and ethnic health disparities.

SOURCE: Case Western Reserve University, news release, Sept. 26, 2011
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