NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Black people in Canada are at least as healthy as whites, hints a study that is a stark contrast to U.S. statistics.
From health surveys, researchers found that blacks born in Canada had lower rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and cancer than their white compatriots.
By contrast, high blood pressure and diabetes were more common among blacks than whites in the U.S.
One possible explanation is that African Americans have a long history as second-class citizens, said Thomas A. LaVeist, who directs the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions in Baltimore.
"That is what I think is fueling the disparity we see in the U.S.," LaVeist, whose findings appear in the Archives of Internal Medicine, told Reuters Health.
Canada, on the other hand, had only a brief encounter with slavery and many African Canadians are recent immigrants.
"We know that recent immigrants tend to be healthier than the native populations in a country," LaVeist said.
While he called the findings surprising, noting that they contradict earlier data from Canada, he also cautioned that they have significant limitations.
The Canadian health survey, for instance, included only 729 blacks, compared with more than 280,000 whites. That makes the comparisons between the two groups much less trustworthy.
LaVeist and a colleague found that nine percent of blacks born in Canada had high blood pressure, while 21 percent of their white compatriots did. Two percent of African Canadians had diabetes, compared to six percent of whites.
In the U.S., 35 percent of blacks had high blood pressure and 28 percent of whites did. The figures for diabetes were 11 percent and 8 percent, respectively.
However, the rates of heart disease and cancer were lower among African Americans than whites.
If the results are real, LaVeist said, they might also reflect differences in the two countries' healthcare systems.
"I think that is part of the puzzle, the fact that in Canada you have universal healthcare," he mused.
Next summer, LaVeist added, Baltimore will host the International Conference on Health in the African Diaspora to talk about social and medical challenges facing slave descendants in the West.
SOURCE: bit.ly/nzMLnX Archives of Internal Medicine, September 26, 2011.