Does Being Black and Poor Increase Our Risk of Kidney Disease?

Yes. Dietary habits and lack of access to healthy food options doesn't help either.

Posted: 11/07/2012 02:07 PM EST

When it comes to chronic kidney disease (CKD) — the slow loss of kidney function over time, which can result in renal failure — African-Americans are three to four times more likely to develop the disease. A new study shows that perhaps socio-economics also play a factor in our increased risk.

Researchers at the University of Washington, the University of California San Francisco and Stanford University examined data from more than 20,000 Black and white patients with CKD and found that low-income African-Americans are more likely to suffer this disease compared to low-income whites.

The key findings revealed that:

African-Americans who had incomes of less than $20,000 had more than three times the risk of excessive protein in the urine — an indicator of chronic kidney disease — than African-Americans earning more than $75,000. These findings were adjusted for age, sex, diabetes, high blood pressure and lifestyle factors such as obesity and smoking.

Those with incomes between $20,000 and $35,000 had more than double the risk of kidney damage when compared to higher income African-Americans. This trend was not seen among whites.

But what is it about being poor and Black that puts us at higher risk?

“It’s possible that cultural differences, especially in dietary habits, may be at play as well as lack of access to healthier food options,” said Dr. Deidra Crews, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's Division of Nephrology. “Environment could be another major factor as well as the psychological stress of poverty, which may be different for African-Americans.”

Researchers hope that this study can usher an increase in kidney disease screenings and innovative approaches to addressing the health needs of the poor.

"It's important for clinicians to recognize patients with limited resources so that they can adjust their recommendations for lifestyle modifications that can reduce risk for kidney disease," said Thomas Manley, director of scientific activities for the National Kidney Foundation. “Advising low-income patients to join a gym or purchase expensive, healthy foods is unlikely to be effective. Clinicians need to discuss a variety of healthier options with these patients that can be accomplished within their financial means.”

It’s important to point out that our kidneys are crucial to maintaining good health.

Our kidney’s main job is to remove waste from our body through our urine, but they also help balance the body's fluids, release hormones to regulate our blood pressure, produce vitamin D and control the production of red blood cells.

Yet, African-Americans are no strangers to kidney disease. One out of every four people living with kidney failure is Black. According to the National Kidney Foundation, African-Americans make up 29 percent of all patients treated for kidney failure in the U.S. We also develop kidney failure at an earlier age.

But this doesn’t have to be our destiny — health experts boast that early detection and screenings for those with higher risk could make a huge difference in taking control of our kidney health.

Learn more about kidney disease, prevention and treatment here.

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(Photo: Chicago Tribune/MCT /Landov)

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