A new study suggests that African Americans who attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities might have a lower risk for health problems later on in life than those in the community who attend predominantly white institutions.
The research, published online in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that Blacks enrolled in HBCUs had a 35 percent lower probability of developing metabolic syndrome — which is defined as three of the five factors which increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
“We’ve known for a very long time that the more years of completed schooling someone has, the better their health is likely to be across the life course, but there’s been very little research looking at the different contexts in which education occurs and their impact on subsequent health outcomes,” Cynthia Colen who was the lead author of the study and a professor of sociology at The Ohio State University said on the school’s website, “This study really points to a strength of HBCUs that people don’t normally think about: Not only can they be health-protective, but they can be health-protective for years to come, not just while people are in school.”
Using data from another research project entitled the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health, which conducted interviews with pre-teens, Colen compiled information from follow-up interviews conducted when subjects were adults. The 727 Black respondents attended 319 colleges — 273 PWIs and 46 HBCUs. In the survey, health data was also collected and researchers assessed whether metabolic syndrome had developed among them in their later adult years.
An analysis of the data revealed that 31 percent of the respondents who had attended PWIs had developed metabolic syndrome by midlife, compared with 23 percent who went to HBCUs, the study said. It also showed going to an HBCU was linked to a 35 percent reduction of the possibility of metabolic syndrome among college-educated Blacks.
However, 30 percent of college educated Blacks in the study sample had developed metabolic syndrome by a certain point in their lives when they were still relatively young.
“That is the time period of the life course when people are in their 30s and 40s when we see the fastest growth in Black/white health disparities. This is largely driven by the emergence of chronic diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity,” said Colen.
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It is unclear exactly what drives the better health outcomes for Blacks who attend the HBCUs as opposed to those who attend PWIs, but Colen believes that it could be associated with easier access to personal help coming from one’s own culture. At Black colleges, students have more access to faculty, staff, and other students who can serve as support systems and mentors, she theorizes. As a result, they are less likely to deal with racial discrimination that affects Black students socially long after they leave school.
“Our findings suggest that HBCUs are likely to be health-protective for the segment of society who needs it most – those growing up in the most racially isolated environments,” researchers said in the study. “Moreover, this finding underscores the important role that place, in general, and segregation, specifically, plays in the unequal distribution of health.”