Support Provided ByLearn More
Body + BrainBody & Brain

Given Equal Healthcare Access, Black Patients' Mortality Rate Is Lower Than Whites'

ByAllison EckNOVA NextNOVA Next

Receive emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens.

A new assessment of almost 3.1 million patients in the equal-access U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs healthcare system suggests that black people in America are experiencing the ultimate catch-22.

Their biology may allow them to live longer than white populations, but due to socioeconomic conditions, they usually don’t.

Support Provided ByLearn More
Researchers found that the adjusted mortality rate of African Americans was 24% lower than that of whites.

It’s long been known that kidney disease is the exception. Black patients with the condition have higher survival rates than white people with the disease. But that’s just one of many health issues, and kidney care isn’t that racially skewed in America, anyway—dialysis is covered for anyone who needs it. So scientists wanted to see if, given equal access, there were any other areas in which black people fared better than white people.

They studied the overall health of 547,441 black patients and 2,525,525 white patients with normal kidney function over an average of eight years. Most were men with an average age of 60.

Here’s Alan Zarembo, writing for the Los Angeles Times:

Over a nine-year period, researchers found that the adjusted mortality rate of African Americans was 24% lower than that of whites, according to a study published this month in the journal Circulation.

“We thought we were going to show they do the same if the same care is offered to both groups,” said senior author Dr. Kamyar Kalantar-Zadeh, a nephrologist and epidemiologist at UC Irvine. “But we found blacks do even better.

“This is a paradox within a paradox,” he said.

Meanwhile, in a more representative sample of the U.S. general public, the adjusted death rate was 42% higher for black people than for white people.

The study included a statistical analysis that took into account age, gender, income, education, blood pressure, medications, and body mass index—so while there may be some caveats to the research (for example, it may not have given enough weight to factors like diet and exercise), it seems to strongly suggest that not everyone receives the same care—or access to care—in the U.S.

Photo credit: CDC