Wednesday, February 02, 2005

And people ask me why I left North Carolina.

Study: Southern Blacks Die at Higher Rate

Wed Feb 2, 5:08 PM ET


NEW ORLEANS - Blacks in the South apparently get a double whammy of stroke risk: They die at much higher rates than either Southern whites or blacks who live elsewhere.

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Researchers have long known that stroke deaths are greater among blacks and people in the "Stroke Belt" across the eastern part of the nation's midsection. But they thought the combined risk posed by race and geography was small.

"Much to our surprise, the finding is: No, it's not," said George Howard, a biostatistician who presented his research Wednesday at an American Stroke Association conference in New Orleans.

The rate of stroke deaths among black men in the South was 51 percent higher than it was among blacks in other parts of the country. And black men in the South had roughly four times the risk of dying of a stroke as white men living outside the South.

"That's a pretty big difference," Howard said.

Howard, chairman at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, compared stroke deaths in 10 Southern states to those in 11 non-Southern states with large enough black populations to make comparisons possible, including California, Texas and New York.

He used information from the National Center for Health Statistics from 1997 through 2001, and adjusted it to take into account how many blacks and whites live in each state.

Among white men ages 55 to 64 living in the South, the stroke death rate was 49 deaths per 100,000 people — 29 percent higher than the rate among white men living elsewhere. Among black men in the South, the rate was 159 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 105 for black men living elsewhere.

Trends were similar among women.

Leading theories for the racial and geographic differences are that Southerners are more likely to smoke, be overweight, have high blood pressure, and be in poor general health. Lack of good medical care also may be involved.

"Some of those Stroke Belt states are some of the poorest in the country," said Dr. Joseph Broderick, chairman of neurology at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine.

As for whether moving from the South would help, that is not clear at all.

"I was brought up in what's called the buckle of the Stroke Belt," and then moved to Alabama, Howard said. "Did I bring the risk with me or did I leave it in eastern North Carolina?"

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke funded his study and another presented at the conference which found that whites were twice as likely as blacks to have "prehypertension," a new category the government set last year for mildly elevated blood pressure — a reading of 120 to 139 over 80 to 89.

But blacks with prehypertension were far more likely to suffer strokes or heart disease as a consequence, the study of more than 80,000 around the country found.

"The population should be aware of this category and know that this is a new risk," said Daniel Lackland, an epidemiologist at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

Blood pressure drugs are not recommended for prehypertension unless people have diabetes or other conditions. Instead, doctors urge people to watch their diets and salt intake.

Other studies at the conference hinted that genetic differences may play a role in higher stroke risks for blacks. Three separate teams found that stroke victims were more likely to have variations in a potential "stroke gene" recently identified in Iceland. One of the teams found that such variations were more common in blacks than in whites.


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Sunday, January 30, 2005

I ♥ Chomsky

Thanks to Netflix, I spent part of this weekend watching Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. Chomsky is widely regarded as one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, and until the other day was a member of my brain’s embarrassingly large “I know the name, but I don’t know who he is” file. Who he is, is a MIT linguistics professor, author, scholar, rabble-rouser and bona fide badass. He describes himself as a “libertarian socialist and a supporter of anarcho-syndicalism.”

The title of the documentary is taken from his seminal work that he co-wrote with E.S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. The book is an explanation of how the media and the press are manipulated by the powers that be into shaping the social agenda of the country. The 2 hour and 47 minute doc is worth the investment, unless that is you would rather keep your head in the sand about how this country really works. I think the filmmakers knew they were working with some seriously heavy content, so they employed a lot of interesting devices to make their points. Instead of just showing the statistic that the New York Times is 40% content and 60% advertising, they demonstrated it by separating the ads and the news from one issue and laying them out side by side. Little visual touches like that helped to make this 7-course meal of a movie go down a lot easier.

Combine that with a Sunday matinee viewing of Hotel Rwanda—2 thumbs of from the wife and I—and you’ve got the makings of one angry black man.

My wife bought a copy of The Chomsky Reader at a used bookstore some time ago, and I was tempted to dive into the day after watching the documentary. After a lengthy internal debate, I’ve decided to put the book to good use this weekend when we make the trek from Tucson to The Bahamas for my best friend’s wedding. Unless, of course, the in-flight movie is Shark Tale. I’m not a total idiot.

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