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A Unique Study of African Americans and Heart Disease Under Way


A new study is conducting an in-depth investigation of the unique risk factors and specific causes of cardiovascular disease among African Americans. It's called the Jackson Heart Study, because it takes place in and around Jackson, Mississippi in three counties-Hinds, Rankin and Madison. The study is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health's Office of Research on Minority Health and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

The study will examine a total of 5,302 individuals from now until 2014. This type of research, called a "prospective study," follows its participants over a period of years. When some of them get sick, the researchers look at the differences between those individuals and the ones who don't become sick.

Other heart studies that you may have heard of, such as the large one conducted for years in Framingham, have had similar goals, but very few African Americans participated. The Jackson study hopes to uncover specific information about the unique risks and environmental factors that trigger the development of cardiovascular disease in African Americans.

A national decline in heart disease is lagging among African Americans

The rate of cardiovascular disease is declining overall in the U.S., but it's declining most slowly among African Americans. The director of the Jackson study, Herman A. Taylor Jr., M.D., said in a recent article in the New York Times that researchers in the study believe that conventional risk factors-such as smoking, obesity and high blood pressure play a role in the development of cardiovascular disease among African Americans.

But he also said that researchers want to pinpoint the risks further by looking at things like social support, anger, hostility and optimism. And they want to see whether factors like religion and extended family play a protective role.

The study will look at the effect of discrimination, but also at how a person responds to it. It will also examine the effects of economic depression. It will attempt to determine, for example, whether someone who lives in a neighborhood where violence is common is less likely to exercise simply because it's too dangerous to get outside and walk.

Study participants will answer a series of questionnaire asking about

  • Lifestyle habits
  • Medical history
  • Medications
  • Cultural factors

    Participants will also receive periodic physical health assessments, including information about cholesterol and blood sugar (glucose), and they'll provide information about their conventional risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as smoking and overweight. The study will also examine additional factors that influence heart disease, such as genetics, sociocultural influences and socioeconomic status.

    When study examiners detect a health problem with a participant, they'll refer that person for additional medical care. If the patient doesn't have a primary care doctor, there are local doctors who have volunteered to treat study participants.

    Additional study benefits

    Besides the relevant information the Jackson study is likely to reveal about heart disease and African Americans, it's also likely to provide insight into how to recruit and retain members of racial minority groups in public health studies. It will also provide new opportunities for minority students to develop careers in public health and research.

    The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; The New York Times, "Mississippi's 'Heart Man' Examines the Links Between Race and Disease," 7 February 2006
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