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Cortisol and Racial Health Disparities Affecting Black Men in Later Life: Evidence From MIDUS II

Publication Abstract

Allen, Julie Ober, Daphne C. Watkins, Linda M. Chatters, Arline T. Geronimus, and Vicki Demeitris Johnson-Lawrence. 2019. "Cortisol and Racial Health Disparities Affecting Black Men in Later Life: Evidence From MIDUS II." American Journal of Men's Health, 13(4): 1557988319870969.

In the United States, Black men have poorer overall health and shorter life spans than most other racial/ethnic groups of men, largely attributable to chronic health conditions. Dysregulated patterns of daily cortisol, an indicator of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis stress-response functioning, are linked to poor health outcomes. Questions remain regarding whether and how cortisol contributes to Black-White differences in men's health. This exploratory study compared early day changes in cortisol levels (diurnal cortisol slopes from peak to pre-lunch levels) and their associations with medical morbidity (number of chronic medical conditions) and psychological distress (Negative Affect Scale) among 695 Black and White male participants in the National Survey of Midlife in the United States (MIDUS II, 2004-2009). Black men exhibited blunted cortisol slopes relative to White men (−.15 vs. −.21, t = −2.97, p = .004). Cortisol slopes were associated with medical morbidity among Black men (b = .050, t = 3.85, p < .001), but not White men, and were unrelated to psychological distress in both groups. Findings indicate cortisol may contribute to racial health disparities among men through two pathways, including the novel finding that Black men may be more vulnerable to some negative health outcomes linked to cortisol. Further, results suggest that while cortisol may be a mechanism of physical health outcomes and disparities among older men, it may be less important for their emotional health. This study increases understanding of how race and male sex intersect to affect not only men's lived experiences but also their biological processes to contribute to racial health disparities among men in later life.


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