Science is discovery. It is about answering questions and, often, raising new ones.
For Elise and Demir Dilci, 16-year-old twins whose research was presented at the American Heart Association’s scientific sessions in Chicago on Sunday, it was certainly all that. The two high school sophomores at Awty International School in Houston decided to answer just one question and discovered they had many more.
Their work, done in partnership with Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine as part of a school internship project, sought to determine if there was an association between living in historically demarcated neighborhoods and the risk of die of heart disease. What the teens found not only surprised them, it inspired them to do more to help right the wrongs they discover.
“When I first went to Awty International School and met people from other countries, I realized that there were places without the same privileges as me,” said Half. “But I didn’t think it was that close. It was big news for me.”
Redlining refers to a practice developed in the 1930s, when the federal government sponsored low-interest mortgages to help people recover from the financial crisis of the Great Depression.
The banks developed a system, now illegal, to categorize neighborhoods based on their racial makeup, routinely denying loans to black, Asian, Hispanic, and immigrant families and discouraging other types of investment in neighborhoods they labeled “dangerous”. Redlining and other forms of structural racism have played a major role in creating widespread health disparities between racial and ethnic groups.
For the teens’ mother and study co-author Dr. Biykem Bozkurt, a cardiologist and professor at Baylor College of Medicine, the findings match what she already knew about structural racism and its link to gender disparities. health. She was aware that previous studies had shown an association between gated or racially segregated neighborhoods and poor health, including a higher risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases.
But for her children, the numbers they analyzed were eye-opening.
“I would like people to know that this is one of the first studies to show increased cardiovascular death rates associated with redlining,” said Elise, who said she knew the story. of structural racism in the United States but believed that “everything had been eradicated”. .”
When she and her brother overlaid historic redlining maps with neighborhood profiles from the City of Houston and the Department of Health and Human Services, then compared cardiovascular deaths and potential years of life lost due to ‘heart disease in each of these neighborhoods, the results were stark.
Compared to people living in mapped neighborhoods deemed most desirable by lenders, residents of demarcated or “unsafe” neighborhoods had a 42% higher risk of death – and nearly three times the loss of potential years of life. – due to heart disease. Residents of areas outlined in red were 20% more likely to die of heart disease than residents of areas that were not marked on the maps at all.
Results are considered preliminary until full results are published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Seeing the results of the scan reinforced Elise’s desire to enter the field of community medicine and raise awareness of health disparities created by structural racism, she said. But she doesn’t wait until she’s finished her studies to get involved. She and her brother want to address these disparities today.
While doing their research, Elise and Demir learned that poorer, disproportionately black neighborhoods deemed unsafe by mortgage lenders also lacked other important resources necessary for good cardiovascular health, such as grocery stores with access to fresh fruits and vegetables. . They present their findings to city leaders and ask them to encourage greater investment in neighborhoods affected by histories of discriminatory practices, to ensure that residents of these areas have the same opportunities for good health as residents of other neighborhoods in Houston.
“Even though Houston is very diverse, not all neighborhoods have the same resources,” Demir said. “We need policies to reverse the lasting impact of redlining so that we can prevent this in the future.”
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