There is a high prevalence of cardiovascular disease across diverse groups in the U.S. population, and increasing research has identified stigma as a potential barrier to cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment. This systematic review examines evidence linking discrimination and cardiovascular health among socially stigmatized groups.
Six databases were systematically reviewed from inception through February 2018 for studies with adult subjects, focusing on cardiovascular health indicators among social groups stigmatized because of their gender, race/ethnicity, age, body weight/obesity, or sexual orientation. The Newcastle-Ottawa Scale was used to evaluate the methodological quality and risk of bias for nonrandomized studies, and the Cochrane Collaboration 7-item domain for randomized controlled and experimental trials.
The search identified 84 eligible studies published between 1984 and 2017. Studies retrieved were categorized according to demonstrated links between stigma and cardiovascular disease risk factors including blood pressure (n = 45), heart rate variability (n = 6), blood/saliva cardiovascular biomarkers (n = 18), as well as other indicators of cardiovascular health (n = 15). Based on the findings from included studies, 86% concluded that there was a significant relationship among stigma or discrimination and cardiovascular health indicators among socially stigmatized groups. However, there were varying degrees of evidence supporting these relationships, depending on the type of discrimination and cardiovascular health indicator. The current evidence implies an association between perceived discrimination and cardiovascular health. However, most of these studies are cross-sectional (73%) and focus on racial discrimination (79%), while using a wide variety of measurements to assess social discrimination and cardiovascular health.
Future research should include longitudinal and randomized controlled trial designs, with larger and more diverse samples of individuals with stigmatized identities, using consistent measurement approaches to assess social discrimination and its relationship with cardiovascular health.