Information - Concepts In Nutrigenomics - Health Disparities

Science Addressing Societal Issues

The landmark 1985 report, the Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Black and Minority Health revealed that certain minority populations exhibit higher incidence and severity of diabetes obesity, asthma, cardiovascular diseases (CVD), and certain cancers.  African-American men, for example, have a 60% greater risk of prostate cancer diagnosis and 2 to 3 times greater mortality than men of European decent. Observations from the largest survey of dietary habits and health status in the U.S., the Third National Health and Nutrition Examinations Survey (NHANES), have established that older African Americans, Mexican American women and African American men were at greater risk for CVD, paralleling the heightened risk of CVD among younger ethnic minority populations. Multiple CVD risk factors, including plasma lipids as well as dietary fat, obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, contribute to these health disparities in minority. Similar health disparities have been studied and exist in minority populations in New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and England. 

Health disparities result from a complex interplay of racism, socioeconomic factors of health care access, continued segregation of ethnic and different - income groups, and cultural biases, even if unintentional, among health care providers and the biomedical research community.

Scholarly studies also confirm the obvious - it is a challenge to eat healthy foods - fresh fruits and vegetables - when there are more liquor stores than supermarkets in neighborhoods.  Access to parks and recreational centers and threat of crime reduces physical activities, particularly for children and teens.

Nutrigenomics & Health Disparities

It is likely that there will not be diets for ethnic groups, since genetic variation within a population is greater than between populations (Genetics & Genomics).  Nevertheless allele frequencies do differ among ancestral groups and therefore certain gene variants are more common in some populations than in others.  One example illustrates the point:  a polymorphism (A-6G) in the angiotensinogen (ANG) gene that has a higher frequency in Africans and their descendents causes homozygous (AA) individuals to be more susceptible to dietary salt (NaCl) than those without the polymorphism (see).  The NIH DASH Eating Plan helps control blood pressure and is more effective in these AA ANG individuals.

By analyzing nutrient-genotype interactions, nutrigenomics may provide valuable information for individuals of with different metabolic genotypes - regardless of skin color - to optimize their choices of food. These same concerns and concepts can be applied globally (see Public & International Health)

Further reading

Hood, E. 2005.  Dwelling Disparities. Environmental Health Perspectives 113, A310-A317. PMID: 15866753 (free access)

Svetkey LP, Moore TJ, Simons-Morton DG, Appel LJ, Bray GA, Sacks FM, Ard JD, Mortensen RM, Mitchell SR, Conlin PR, Kesari M; DASH collaborative research group. 2001. Angiotensinogen genotype and blood pressure response in the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study. J. Hypertension 19, 1949-1956.  PMID: 11677359