Childhood family living arrangements linked to high blood pressure in black men.

Black men have higher blood pressure levels and consequently higher prevalence of hypertension compared with men from other ethnic groups in the United States. Socio-familial factors in childhood have been found to play an important role in hypertension, but few studies have examined this relationship among black men.

A new U.S. study investigated whether childhood family living arrangements ― such as being raised in a single-parent household ― are independently associated with hypertension. Previous studies have linked childhood living arrangements to aspects of high blood pressure, but this one is the first to examine black men ― a population at particular risk for hypertension.

The research team, from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, used a cross-sectional sample of 515 unrelated black male participants over 20 years of age enrolled in the Howard University Family Study between 2001 and 2008.

They compared black men who lived with both parents as children with the reference group of men who never lived with both parents during their lifetime. According to the results, published in the journal Hypertension, the men from two-parent households had a 4.4 mmHg lower systolic blood pressure than those who had never lived with both parents. They also had lower average arterial blood pressure and lower pulse pressure – the difference between maximum and minimum blood pressure as the heart pumps.

This positive effect was more pronounced among men who lived with both parents for 1 to 12 years of their lives. They had 6.5 mmHg lower systolic blood pressure, lower pulse pressure, lower average arterial pressure, and were 46 percent less likely to develop hypertension than men from single-parent households. No statistically significant associations were found for diastolic blood pressure.

According to study lead, Debbie Barrington, these differences in maximum blood pressure between men raised by two parents versus one, are greater than the changes produced by some common prescription blood pressure medications. She explained that while the presence or absence of parents may not directly affect blood pressure, it could indicate other childhood risk factors. For example, single-parent households are more likely to experience poverty, and early childhood poverty has been linked to later health problems like hypertension.

She said that among the study participants, “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. Less childhood stress potentially delays the rise of blood pressure that increases with age, lowering one’s risk of hypertension in adulthood.”

The authors concluded that their results provide “preliminary evidence that childhood family structure exerts a long-term influence on blood pressure among black men.” The added that 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.

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