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CWRU study links historic real estate redlining to higher veteran mortality rates nationwide

Study shows veterans living in "redlined" neighborhoods face greater health risks.
Ideastream Public Media
A study of 80,000 veterans nationwide shows those who today live in neighborhoods redlined almost 100 years ago faced a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and higher mortality rates.

Veterans who lived in redlined neighborhoods across the country have higher mortality rates and face greater risks of cardiovascular disease and related ailments than those living in other locations, Cleveland-based researchers found in a study published July 11.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals and the Veterans Affairs Northeast Ohio Healthcare System studied 80,000 veterans nationwide who had lived in neighborhoods redlined by the federal government. The practice, implemented in the 1930s, discriminated against certain minority neighborhoods by labeling them a mortgage risk, a practice adopted by private banks as well.

Researchers found veterans who today live in these neighborhoods had a 15% higher risk of a heart attack, a 14% higher risk of other types of other cardiovascular-related crisis, including stroke and a 13% higher mortality rate overall.

The study shows the significant impact of redlining even decades later, said CWRU researcher Salil Deo.

Nearly a century after the elimination of redlining as a practice, it still continues to (adversely impact) the contemporary cardiovascular health of U.S. veterans as well as the U.S. population in general,” he said.

Deo said more research is needed to determine exactly why living in these neighborhoods led to health problems. However, he said simply incorporating such a social determinant into the decision-making process will improve care from the start.

"I think it is important that we try to think of these aspects of health care ... and try to utilize this information to be able to better stratify that person's risk, that patient's risk, so that we can start good medications and we can start them earlier," he said.

Using social determinants to assess healthcare needs will be especially beneficial for patients who face greater health risks, he said.

“When we improve the prediction capability, then we can identify higher-risk patients earlier, and we can treat them more effectively,” Deo said.

The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

Stephen Langel is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media's engaged journalism team.