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Discrimination at work may be hard on the heart


Photo: annebaek/iStockphoto

Los Angeles — Workers who experience discrimination on the job may be more likely to develop high blood pressure, results of a recent study show.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark used data from more than 1,200 U.S. adult workers in the Midlife in the United States Study. The participants, none of whom had high blood pressure at the start of the study, were followed for about eight years. Workplace discrimination was assessed via survey questions on job experiences, including racial or sexual slurs/jokes, unfair treatment, and whether promotions were given fairly. 

Overall, 319 (25.6%) of the workers reported having high blood pressure at follow-up, according to an American Heart Association press release. A high workplace discrimination score at the start of the study was associated with a 54% increased risk of developing the condition when compared with workers with a low score. Meanwhile, an intermediate score at enrollment was linked to a 22% increased likelihood of developing high blood pressure compared with having a low score.

Governmental and employer anti-discrimination policies and interventions could help counter the issue in workplaces, the researchers suggest, adding that employers’ approaches can help bolster coping skills among workers.

AHA says its 2024 goal is to advance cardiovascular health for all, which includes identifying and removing barriers to health care access and quality by focusing on its “10 Commitments” to improve health equity. 

“We should increase public awareness that work is an important social determinant of health,” lead study author Jian Li, a professor of work and health at UCLA, said in the release. “In addition to traditional risk factors, stressful experiences at work due to discrimination are an emerging risk factor for high blood pressure.”

The study was published online in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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