Researchers at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) observed the connection between race, poverty, and early death. It was found out that belonging to minority groups and living below the poverty line may represent a risk for people’s longevity.

New research that looks at the effects of sex, race, and socioeconomic status determined that low-income African Americans had the lowest overall survival compared with American white men. Scientists collected data from the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity Across the Life Span (HANDLS) study. 3,720 subjects were recruited, involving both: white and African-American men and women living below or above the federal poverty status.

Despite the years of economic recovery, poverty is still stubbornly high in America. Credits: Spencer Platt via Getty Images

The results pointed out that African-American men living below poverty status face more risks of early deaths than their counterpart.

The study’s results suggest that poor African-American men are especially vulnerable to early death.

The findings show that African American men living below the poverty line had the lowest overall survival. Researchers found out that these subjects had a nearly 2.7 times higher risk of premature death compared with African American men living above poverty status. The same disparity was not found, however, among American white men.

Poor American white men are at the same risk of dying as American white men living above the poverty line.

In turn, among women, both African-American and white females living below poverty line are about twice as likely to suffer early death as those above the poverty threshold.

Nevertheless, the study was not clear to specify if the reasons laid over biological or lifestyle factors. Dr. Michele Evans, deputy scientific director of NIA and one of the co-authors, said the team would continue assessing the subjects to determine the causes.

“African American males are feared and marginalized in American society. This lifelong ostracism facilitates cascading adverse outcomes in education, employment and in interaction with the criminal justice system. The resultant poverty is a virulent health risk factor for AA [African American] men,” researchers wrote.

Evans emphasized that her colleagues are learning which social factors act directly in the biological process leading to differential longevity. They are likewise trying to evaluate how social factors also contribute to higher incidences of chronic diseases that occur much earlier in lower socioeconomic populations, particularly among American belonging to minority groups.

Further on, Evans highlighted the consequences poverty could bring to everyone’s health. It is not only a matter of living below the poverty line, but also it is about how such low economic status may represent a risk for people’s health. As per Evans, poverty may play a defining role in certain disease processes.

“Our findings at 125 percent of the poverty line suggest that revision of poverty thresholds triggering eligibility for federal programs that influence the quality of life, health, and equal opportunity should take into account premature mortality driven by poverty as a first step to address the vulnerability of poor AA men,” continued the study. It was found out that the leading causes of death were heart disease and cancer.

Marginalization of African-American people as a moral cause

In the study, researchers used poverty levels set by the U.S. federal poverty guidelines; poverty status was defined as above or below 125 percent as per the federal poverty guidelines. In 2016, the federal poverty line is set in $24,300 for a family of four. Poverty status has been defined by US government as earning less than $24,300 for a family of four or $11,880 per year for a single person.

According to scientists, it is quite evident to see the destructive effects of poverty on American populations. They hope the findings help policy-makers to reconsider parameters they use to set federal poverty levels. Study’s authors observed that marginalization of African-American men in U.S. society was the primary cause leading the results.

Researchers reported they compared people who were 125% above and 125% below the federal poverty line. Although there were certainly more people below the poverty threshold at risk of early death, the results of early death were the same for those above the poverty status. This means that maybe those above the poverty line do not have access to government programs to improve their health as well as those below the line. Government programs give access to medical care to people living above the federal poverty line.

Co-author Alan Zonderman, a researcher at the National Institute on Aging, said that African-American men are often excluded from many social benefits, such as health care programs, a fact that undoubtedly contributes to marginalization. If low-income people do not have access to proper medical benefits, particularly to specialists to treat their illnesses, the risk of mortality increase.

“’This lifelong ostracism facilitates cascading negative outcomes in education, employment and in interaction with the criminal justice system. The resultant poverty is a virulent health risk factor for African American men. That leaves African Americans, particularly African-American men, on the margins of the health care system,” wrote Zonderman.

Researchers concluded thus that government authorities need should recheck what they are considering as a parameter to set the poverty threshold. That way, people might have more possibilities to participate in federal government programs to treat their chronic diseases and improve their quality of life.

The findings were published online on Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine.

Source: Jama