Racism and Heart Disease Risk

Our experiences, emotions, and behaviors are interconnected and can profoundly influence one another. While there are times one part of your life can seep into and impact another positively, problems in one area can also have a negative impact if not addressed. One area we aim to highlight is the connection between social relationships and physical health, particularly heart health.

The impact of racism on physical health is a critical area in the healthcare space, and it warrants our attention. In an article published by Boston University, Andrew Thurston sheds light on a groundbreaking study that establishes a strong correlation between experiencing racism and an increased risk of heart disease among Black women.

The study, spearheaded by Dr. Yvette Cozier, an epidemiologist, and professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, analyzed data from the Black Women’s Health Study (BWHS) – an ongoing, long-term research project initiated in 1995. With a cohort of over 59,000 Black women from across the United States, the BWHS has made significant strides in understanding the health disparities faced by this demographic.

To determine the association between racial discrimination and heart disease, the research team employed a detailed questionnaire that assessed participants’ experiences of racism in various contexts, such as work, housing, and public spaces. The questionnaire also considered the frequency and severity of these encounters.

After examining the self-reported data alongside medical records, the researchers found that perceived racism in employment, housing, and interactions with the police was associated with a 26 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease for Black women.

Sheehy, who’s also affiliated with the BU Slone Epidemiology Center, explains, “When we think about how racism impacts our health, it’s a psychosocial stressor… it increases your blood pressure, your level of inflammation—[and] all of these biological mechanisms increase your risk of coronary heart disease”.

The study forces us to examine how the interconnectedness of our lives allows racial discrimination to have far-reaching consequences on one’s health, wellness and lived experience. While the study underscores the importance of providing holistic and culturally aware patient care, further research is needed to elucidate how coping mechanisms can counteract the effects of racism. We must recognize how structural racism within the healthcare system can impact lives, advocate for, and work toward change.


By: Helena Zhang, BS & Michael Fredericson, MD


  1. Study Abstract: https://newsroom.heart.org/policy?id=63ed57d8b3aed303f1737879
  2. Black Women’s Health Study: https://www.bu.edu/bwhs/