I can't say I buy the thesis of these two papers, namely that inherited epigenetic effects from the days of slavery are responsible for birth-weight and cardiovascular disease (CVD) disparities between whites and blacks in the US.
Does anyone know of any studies of birth weight or CVD in biracial children with a white vs. a black mother, with otherwise similar admixture proportions? An expectation of this theory is that the former should have a higher birth weight.
American Journal of Human Biology doi: 10.1002/ajhb.20824
Low birth weight of contemporary African Americans: An intergenerational effect of slavery?
The average birth weight in the contemporary African-American population is about 250 g lower than the average birth weight of European Americans. Differences in genetic and socioeconomic factors present between these two groups can explain only part of birth weight variation. I propose a hypothesis that the low birth weight of contemporary African Americans not only results from the difference in present exposure to lifestyle factors known to affect fetal development but also from conditions experienced during the period of slavery. Slaves had poor nutritional status during all stages of life because of the inadequate dietary intake accompanied by high energetic costs of physical work and infectious diseases. The concept of fetal programming suggests that physiology and metabolism including growth and fat accumulation of the developing fetus, and, thus its birth weight, depend on intergenerational signal of environmental quality passed through generations of matrilinear ancestors. I suggest that several generations that have passed since the abolition of slavery in the United States (1865) has not been enough to obliterate the impact of slavery on the current biological and health condition of the African-American population.
American Journal of Human Biology doi: 10.1002/ajhb.20822
Epigenetics and the embodiment of race: Developmental origins of US racial disparities in cardiovascular health
Christopher W. Kuzawa, Elizabeth Sweet
The relative contribution of genetic and environmental influences to the US black-white disparity in cardiovascular disease (CVD) is hotly debated within the public health, anthropology, and medical communities. In this article, we review evidence for developmental and epigenetic pathways linking early life environments with CVD, and critically evaluate their possible role in the origins of these racial health disparities. African Americans not only suffer from a disproportionate burden of CVD relative to whites, but also have higher rates of the perinatal health disparities now known to be the antecedents of these conditions. There is extensive evidence for a social origin to prematurity and low birth weight in African Americans, reflecting pathways such as the effects of discrimination on maternal stress physiology. In light of the inverse relationship between birth weight and adult CVD, there is now a strong rationale to consider developmental and epigenetic mechanisms as links between early life environmental factors like maternal stress during pregnancy and adult race-based health disparities in diseases like hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and coronary heart disease. The model outlined here builds upon social constructivist perspectives to highlight an important set of mechanisms by which social influences can become embodied, having durable and even transgenerational influences on the most pressing US health disparities. We conclude that environmentally responsive phenotypic plasticity, in combination with the better-studied acute and chronic effects of social-environmental exposures, provides a more parsimonious explanation than genetics for the persistence of CVD disparities between members of socially imposed racial categories.