Study: High Blood Pressure in Black Men Linked to Childhood Household

Edited: 10:17am, 12/5/13 to correct blood pressure readings are 6.5 points lower in men who grew up with both parents from ages 1-12.


By Chris Hoenig

Photo by Shutterstock.

Blacks who grow up in a single-parent household have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure later in life, according to a new research study.

Researchers at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, part of the National Institutes of Health, found that Black men who spent their childhood in a single-parent household had a 46 percent greater risk of developing hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, than those who grew up with two parents. The average blood pressure in these men was also higher than their dual-parent counterparts.

“These differences in mean blood pressure and the prevalence of hypertension among men raised in two-parent households versus single-parent households during childhood are quite significant,” study author Debbie Barrington said.

A normal blood pressure is considered to be 120/80 or lower, but the study found that Black men who grew up with both parents from ages 112 had a systolic, or maximum, blood pressure (the first number in a blood-pressure reading) 6.5 points lower than those who had spent their entire childhood in single-parent households. Hypertension is typically diagnosed when sustained readings top 140/90.

A little less than one-third of American adults (31 percent) have hypertension, but Blacks are at a much greater risk of developing it. Forty-three percent of Black men and nearly 46 percent of Black women have high blood pressure, the most of any race or ethnicity. White men and women have about an average risk (33.9 percent for men, 31.3 percent for women), while Latinos and Latinas have lower-than-average rates of hypertension (28.9 percent for women, 27.8 percent for men).

Living with just one parent may not be the direct cause of the high blood pressure, but could play a key role in determining factors that will lead to it, according to Barrington. “Those men who grew up in two-parent households during childhood were also more likely to experience less economic hardship and subsequently less stress in early life,” she said. “Less childhood stress potentially delays the rise of blood pressure that increases with age, lowering one’s risk of hypertension in adulthood.”

Studies have already found that poverty is more common among single-parent households and that childhood poverty is linked to long-term health risks, including hypertension.

More than two-thirds of Black children6.5 million kids in 2011grow up in a single-parent household, which is nearly double the rate for all children in the United States (35 percent) and an increase of nearly 300,000 children in the last five years. In Illinois, Arkansas and Ohio, that number jumps to 74 percent, with Wisconsin right behind (73 percent). At least 70 percent of Black children in Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Indiana, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Mississippi and Michigan live in single-family households.

Single mothers are not the only ones raising kids alone. A Pew Research Center study over the summer found a record spike in the number of single fathers in the United Statesnearly 2.7 million households, or 8 percent of all households in the country.

Children raised in single-parent households are also at risk of higher drug and alcohol abuse, don’t do as well in school and have more trouble finding a job than children raised in a two-parent household. But Barrington said that hypertension risks can be lowered in all Black Americans, regardless of their household growing up, by eating right and exercising often. “Our study suggests that there may be a link between childhood family living arrangements and blood pressure in black men,” she said. “It does not suggest that those men who did not live with both parents during childhood are destined to have high blood pressure in adulthood.”

The study, which looked at 500 unrelated, at-least-20-year-old Black men who were enrolled in the Howard University Family Study, is published in the latest issue of the medical journal Hypertension.

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