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Disparities/Minority Health

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Disadvantaged blacks differ from disadvantaged whites in beliefs about genetic testing

Among high-risk groups, genetic testing has the potential to identify who might benefit from early counseling and screening. Genetic testing may also help to identify which patients are more likely to respond to certain treatments. Yet socioeconomically disadvantaged blacks differ from their white counterparts in their beliefs about genetic testing and the basis for moral decisionmaking, concludes a study supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10864). For example, blacks were 3 times more likely to believe that genetic testing would lead to racial discrimination and nearly 4 times more likely to think that all pregnant women should have genetic tests.

Blacks perceived themselves to be in worse health, were more likely to agree that genetic testing was tampering with nature and thereby unethical, and that God's word was their most important source for moral decisions. Over 90 percent of low-income blacks and whites surveyed thought that genetic testing was a good idea and that research on genetics would bring cures for many diseases. However, few believed that genetic testing results should be made available to employers, used for gender selection of a baby, or as a basis for abortion.

The researchers note that blacks are primarily concerned that genetic testing results could lead to racially based population control or could block access to health insurance or employment. They attribute blacks' greater support for genetic testing of all pregnant women in part to their desire to find out about sickle cell disease, which affects 1 in 600 black babies. The researchers suggest that failure to address blacks' concerns about racial discrimination and faith in God's word could lead to further mistrust and/or avoidance of the health care system and genetic testing, and may ultimately result in increased racial disparities.

These findings were based on survey responses by 314 low-income blacks and whites from 4 inner-city health centers in 2004.

See "Racial differences in beliefs about genetic screening among patients at inner-city neighborhood health centers," by Richard K. Zimmerman, M.D., M.P.H., Melissa Tabbarah, Ph.D., M.P.H., Mary Patricia Nowalk, Ph.D., R.D., and others, in the March 2006 Journal of the National Medical Association 98(3), pp. 370-377.

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