Honors Study

Assessing Health Disparities: Investigating the Relationship Between Perceived and Biological Stress Across Racial/Ethnic Groups

Jonathan A. Lichkus

Jonathan A. Lichkus
HPA Schreyer Scholar

Abstract

Disparities in health outcomes between racial/ethnic groups are well known. The purpose of this thesis is to provide a potential mechanism through which such disparities propagate. 

To this effect, I determined racial/ethnic differences in the physiological response to external stressors, and assessed the ability of allostatic load—the cumulative effect of these psychological and physiological responses—to predict the progression of metabolic syndrome in different racial/ethnic groups.

Using multiple statistical procedures such as linear and logistic regression, this study found that in both Whites and Blacks, feeling a chronic burden predicted increased levels of C-reactive protein, a known marker of inflammation and possible precursor to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. In addition, Hispanics were found to be 48 percent more likely to develop metabolic syndrome than whites.

Overall, this thesis found that racial/ethnic groups respond uniquely to the same external stressor and that this differential response can result in a differential burden of disease.  Additional investigation using longitudinal studies with different markers of allostatic load and multiple health outcomes is needed to further support this finding.