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Why Are Health Studies So White?
The Atlantic

Illyasha Peete spent the first years of her son’s life listening to his whistling breaths on the pillow next to her. “I was always afraid that he was going to stop breathing at night, so for two years, he slept in the same bed as me,” she said.

As a single mother of an asthmatic son in Memphis, Tennessee, Peete worked hard to provide her child with the medical care he needed. Her son took medications, received allergy shots, and used a nebulizer, a machine that pumps vaporized medicine into the lungs. Eventually, Peete gave up her real estate agency business to work as a grocery store manager, just for better health insurance.

Despite her efforts, her son may have received treatments tailored to someone else. As with many diseases, the bulk of research on respiratory ailments in the U.S. has focused on white European-Americans, and Peete and her son are black. In May, a study in Immunogenetics out of the University of California, San Francisco, reported that only 5 percent of the genetic traits linked to asthma in European Americans applied to African Americans. Epidemiologist Esteban Burchard, who coauthored the paper, says other studies have also shown that different ethnicities have distinct genetic mutations that increase their risk for particular diseases and affect how they respond to medicine. Neglected by research, African American children have died from asthma at 10 times the rate of non-Hispanic white children.

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