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Discrimination on the job linked to higher risk for hypertension

Mar 10, 2023Mar 10, 2023

Adults who felt they had experienced a high level of discrimination at work were 54 percent more likely to develop high blood pressure (hypertension) than were those who reported little or no workplace discrimination, according to research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

By comparison, those who reported intermediate levels of discrimination were 22 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than were workers who reported less discrimination.

The findings stem from the researchers’ tracking of 1,246 workers for about eight years, with 319 participants developing high blood pressure in that time. None of the participants had high blood pressure at the start of the study. Their reports of discrimination included experiencing unfair conditions or unpleasant treatment at work because of personal characteristics, particularly race, sex or age.

Examples of discrimination included feeling more closely watched than other workers, or feeling ignored or not taken seriously by a boss. Some in the study cited workers’ or supervisors’ use of ethnic, racial or sexual slurs or jokes, and some said job promotions were not given fairly.

The more exposure people had to discrimination, the greater their likelihood of developing high blood pressure, the researchers found, even after adjusting for such things as diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption.

Nearly half of U.S. adults (47 percent) have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High blood pressure, which causes the heart to pump harder, can lead to such serious health conditions as heart attacks, stroke, heart failure, kidney failure and more.

But many people — about 1 in 3 adults with high blood pressure — do not know they have it, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Noting that adults spend about a third of their time at work per day, the researchers wrote that their findings on the adverse health effects of workplace discrimination "indicate a need for government and employer policy interventions" to curb discrimination and protect workers’ health.

This article is part of The Post's "Big Number" series, which takes a brief look at the statistical aspect of health issues. Additional information and relevant research are available through the hyperlinks.