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Am J Public Health. 2014 Mar;104(3):421-7. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301504. Epub 2014 Jan 16.

A heavy burden: the cardiovascular health consequences of having a family member incarcerated.

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Hedwig Lee is with the Department of Sociology, University of Washington, Seattle. Christopher Wildeman is with the Department of Sociology, Yale University, New Haven, CT. Emily A. Wang is with the Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven. Niki Matusko is with the Program for Research on Black Americans, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. James S. Jackson is with the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.



We examined the association of family member incarceration with cardiovascular risk factors and disease by gender.


We used a sample of 5470 adults aged 18 years and older in the National Survey of American Life, a 2001-2003 nationally representative cross-sectional survey of Blacks and Whites living in the United States, to examine 5 self-reported health conditions (diabetes, hypertension, heart attack or stroke, obesity, and fair or poor health).


Family member incarceration was associated with increased likelihood of poor health across all 5 conditions for women but not for men. In adjusted models, women with family members who were currently incarcerated had 1.44 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.03, 2.00), 2.53 (95% CI = 1.80, 3.55), and 1.93 (95% CI = 1.45, 2.58) times the odds of being obese, having had a heart attack or stroke, and being in fair or poor health, respectively.


Family member incarceration has profound implications for women's cardiovascular health and should be considered a unique risk factor that contributes to racial disparities in health.

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