map wealthy state for a healthy heart

The wealth of your state can affect the state of your health.

It looks like women can add geography to their list of heart disease risk factors.

According to new research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), the financial health of your home state can have an impact on your heart health. A study led by Dr. Cheryl Clark, Director of Health Equity Research and Intervention at the BWH Center for Community Health and Health Equity, compared each state’s gross domestic product, poverty rate, and financial inequality to rates of cardiovascular inflammation among their female residents.

Cardiovascular inflammation is a major contributor to the development of plaque inside the arteries (atherosclerosis) and is also a strong predictor of heart attacks in healthy women. To determine the presence of cardiovascular inflammation in a patient, researchers measured the blood levels of C-reactive protein and two other substances that are reliable indicators of the early development of atherosclerosis.

Dr. Clark’s team found that women who live in wealthy states have significantly lower levels of cardiovascular inflammation than women who live in less wealthy states. They also determined that women who live in states with higher levels of financial inequality have higher levels of cardiovascular inflammation than women in states with lower inequality. It’s important to note that the relationship between a state’s financial health and a woman’s cardiovascular health held strong even when an individual woman’s diet, weight, personal income level, exercise and smoking habits were taken into account.

“We have been learning that geography matters for heart disease risk,” says Dr. Clark.  “Our study suggests that state-level resources may contribute to early risk factors for heart disease in women.”

Now that Dr. Clark and her team have determined that place matters, they are now examining why it matters. Do rich states do things differently than poor states? Do rich states have better access to cardiovascular health care? Is it less stressful to live in a state that is rich and has low levels of inequality?

Answers to these questions could help states adopt strategies that minimize the impact of wealth on health.

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