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Study examines relationship between health, financial stability in Black Arkansans

Arkansas researchers are looking at how financial stability impacts the physical and emotional stress felt by middle-aged Black men living with chronic illness.
Kim Ryu
Researchers are looking at how financial stability impacts the physical and emotional stress felt by middle-aged Black men living with chronic illness.

Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences are studying the link between financial stability and health in middle-aged Black men suffering from chronic diseases.

The study by the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health will give certain participants a monthly stipend of $500 for half of the study, and will survey them extensively regarding their healthcare-seeking behaviors, among other factors. Black men from central Arkansas over 45 years of age, living with a chronic disease like diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease are eligible to apply.

Brooke E.E. Montgomery, assistant professor in the college’s Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, says it’s one of the first studies of its kind in the U.S. examining how alleviating poverty can positively impact health outcomes.

“Oftentimes when someone is experiencing poverty, they don’t prioritize their health just because [of] reasons like inadequate insurance, high copays, just not able to take off the time from work," Montgomery said, "so all of those reasons, individuals, they’ve got other parts of their lives that take precedence over their health.”

Each participant in the study will have a yearlong stint and undergo periodic interviews and surveys with researchers about their physical and mental health, as well as health-seeking behaviors such as having a nutritious diet and going to the doctor. Montgomery says structural racism, like mass incarceration and residential segregation, has a documented negative effect on the health of Black Americans.

“This persistent exposure to that has caused a racial income gap and less generational wealth for African-Americans, and just that accumulation over time has presented itself for a lot of African-Americans as significant racial disparities in chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes and cancer,” Montgomery said.

Half of the study’s 450 participants will also have had experience in the correctional system. UAMS professor Nickolas Zaller says formerly incarcerated people often bear the brunt of the impacts of structural racism.

“A big part of that is because of so-called collateral consequences where individuals who are released from prisons struggle to find safe housing, employment," Zaller said. "So those things have an impact on insurance, ability to see a doctor, ability to have a certain level of financial stability so that they can prioritize their healthcare and management of their chronic disease.”

Zaller says the study aims to measure whether financial stability leads to accessing more healthcare services, but also how emotional well-being can affect physical health.

“We know that financial instability and financial insecurity creates very significant stress and has a very significant impact on mental health. And then we also know that there’s a very strong association between mental health and physical health, and one’s ability to successfully manage whatever chronic illnesses they’re currently dealing with,” Zaller said.

A $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health is funding the five-year-long study, which researchers hope to begin next January.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.