Addressing a challenge in biomedical research: Too few African American male participants

African American males continue to have the highest age-adjusted mortality rate of any race-sex group in the United States. But research that could lower that death rate is often of limited reliability because of a shortage of African American men willing to participate in biomedical research studies. Researchers at N.C. A&T, Duke University and the University of Miami look into the reasons why and what can be done in the June issue of the Journal of the National Medical Association.

The higher death rate is attributable both to a variety of diseases, including diabetes, HIV, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, and to social and cultural factors.  “Distrust of the medical community, inadequate education, low socioeconomic status, social deprivation, and underutilized primary health care services all contribute to disproportionate health and health care outcomes among African Americans compared to their Caucasian counterparts,” the researchers report.

They found that African American males of all ages are willing to participate in several types of health-related research studies.  Their level of participation is “significantly influenced” by education level.  And it’s motivated by civic duty, monetary compensation and whether they or a relative has had the disease being studied.

“However, African American males, across all age groups, continue to report a lack of trust as a primary reason for their unwillingness to participate in biomedical research,” the article states.  That distrust is rooted in the men’s awareness of historical cases of research misconduct in which minorities were abused or exposed to racial discrimination or racist provocation. In addition, African American men continue to be less educated and more disenfranchised than white men and women and their African American female counterparts.

The authors’ solution is to look to the basics of relationship-building: communicate better and back your words with action.  “There is an ongoing need to continue to seek advice, improve communication, and design research studies that garner trust and improve participation among African American males as a targeted underrepresented population. Such communication and dialogues should occur at all age levels of research development to assess current attitudes and behaviors of African American males around participation.”

The article was written by Drs. Goldie S. Byrd (lead author), Vinaya A. Kelkar and Ruth G. Phillips of N.C. A&T; Dora Som Pim-Pong, Takiyah D. Starks, and Ashleigh L. Taylor, all of N.C. A&T; graduate student Jennifer R.  Byrd of N.C. A&T; undergraduate student Raechel E. McKinley of N.C. A&T; Dr. Christopher L. Edwards of Duke University; and Dr. Margaret Pericak-Vance and graduate student Yi-Ju Li of the University of Miami.

The research was funded by the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health.  The article is available online at the journal’s website.

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