Demographic and biologic influences on survival in whites and blacks: 40 years of follow-up in the Charleston Heart Study

Int J Equity Health. 2006 Jul 3;5:8. doi: 10.1186/1475-9276-5-8.


Background: In the United States, life expectancy is significantly lower among blacks than whites. We examined whether socioeconomic status (SES) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors may help explain this disparity.

Methods: Forty years (1961 through 2000) of all-cause mortality data were obtained on a population-based cohort of 2,283 subjects in the Charleston Heart Study (CHS). We examined the influence of SES and CVD risk factors on all-cause mortality.

Results: Complete data were available on 98% of the original sample (647 white men, 728 white women, 423 black men, and 443 black women). After adjusting for SES and CVD risk factors, the hazard ratios (HRs) for white ethnicity were 1.14 (0.98 to 1.32) among men and 0.90 (0.75 to 1.08) among women, indicating that the mortality risk was 14% greater for white men and 10% lower for white women compared to their black counterparts. However the differences were not statistically significant.

Conclusion: While there are marked contrasts in mortality among blacks and whites in the CHS, the differences can be largely explained by SES and CVD risk factors. Continued focus on improving and controlling cardiovascular disease risk factors may reduce ethnic disparities in survival.