The stresses a great grandmother endured during a pregnancy in Nigeria are knit into the labor pains of her great granddaughter, even if her great granddaughter migrates to a little town in the American Midwest.

Our individual health legacies have ben built over generations. Black women all across the United States carry the very different health heritages passed along to them by their foremothers from Caribbean islands and African nations. “We are a far more genetically diverse than other groups of people,” explains Ricky Kittles, PhD, co-director of Molecular Genetics, National Human Genome Center, Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Kittles, sociologist Andre Christie Mizell, PhD, and other leading health experts have become increasingly aware that people descended from ancestors who endured slavery and the middle passage carry different health risks than people descended from ancestors who have lived relatively free all of their lives. In the world of public health, however, black Americans are considered one people, defined by the color of our skin.

What It All Means for Our Health

“My work currently focuses on the different outcomes in heart disease,” said Helena Dagadu, MPH, who is currently conducting health policy research at Meharry Medical College. “I’m looking at how birth environment works its way into our biology to produce much better health information on blacks living in the United States. Caribbean-born blacks have a significantly different heart disease rates than American-born blacks, for example. Birth outcomes are also very different for African-born women living in the U.S,” explained Dagadu, who grew up in Ghana and feels a deeply personal connection to her work.

“I want to know what are our genetic journeys and where do they lead us? Federal research and treatment dollars and measures of health quality are based on the information reported on different populations, so we cannot assess every black person as one.” Read more on Fierce