Southern blacks face excess risk of stroke

From New Orleans, at a meeting of the American Stroke Association

Scientists have known for decades that blacks in the United States are at greater risk of stroke than whites are. Studies have also suggested that southerners of any race or ethnicity have more strokes than northerners do.

A new investigation finds that blacks between the ages of 55 and 64 living in southern states are about 50 percent more likely to die of stroke than are blacks of the same age living in the north. The stroke-mortality rate for whites in the south was somewhat higher than that for northern whites, but the difference between southern blacks and their northern counterparts was greater, says George Howard, a biostatistician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

He and his colleagues discovered this disparity in data that they had collected on people who died of stroke between 1997 and 2001 in 10 southern states and 9 northern states.

Cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and lifestyle factors all contribute to stroke risk. Which factor, or combination of factors, might account for the added stroke mortality among southern blacks is unknown, Howard says. But some studies have found that southerners, regardless of race, are slightly more likely to acquire such risk factors early in life than are people living up north.

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