Black-white differences in physiology can tell a lot about how the two groups have evolved over time. On traits like resting metabolic rate (RMR), basal metabolic rate (BMR), adiposity, heart rate, Vo2 max, etc. These differences in physiological variables between groups, then, explain part of the reason why there are different outcomes in terms of life quality/mortality between the two groups.
Right away, by looking at the average black and average white, you can see that there are differences in somatype. So if there are differences in somatype, then there must be differences in physiological variables, and so, this may be a part of the cause of, say, differing obesity rates between black and white women (Albu et al, 1997) and even PCOS (Wang and Alvero, 2013).
Resting metabolic rate
Resting metabolic rate is your body’s metabolism at rest, and is the largest component of the daily energy budget in modern human societies (Speakman and Selman, 2003). So if two groups, on average, differ in RMR, then one with the lower RMR may have a higher risk of obesity than the group with the higher RMR. And this is what we see.
Black women do, without a shadow of a doubt, have a lower BMR, lower PAEE (physical activity energy expenditure) and TDEE (total daily expenditure) (Gannon, DiPietro, and Poehlman, 2000). Knowing this, then it is not surprising to learn that black women are also the most obese demographic in the United States. This could partly explain why black women have such a hard time losing weight. Metabolic differences between ethnic groups in America—despite living in similar environments—show that a genetic component is responsible for this.
There are even predictors of obesity in post-menopausal black and white women (Nicklas et al, 1999). They controlled for age, body weight and body composition (variables that would influence the results—no one tell me that “They shouldn’t have controlled for those because it’s a racial confound!”) and found that despite having a similar waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) and subcutaneous fat area, black women had lower visceral fat than white women, while fasting glucose, insulin levels, and resting blood pressure did not differ between the groups. White women also had a higher Vo2 max, which remained when lean mass was controlled for. White women could also oxidize fat at a higher rate than black women (15.4 g/day, which is 17% higher than black women). When this is expressed as percent of total kcal burned in a resting state, white women burned more fat than black women (50% vs 43%). I will cover the cause for this later in the article (one physiologic variable is a large cause of these differences).
We even see this in black American men with more African ancestry—they’re less likely to be obese (Klimentidis et al 2016). This, too, goes back to metabolic rate. Black American men have lower levels of body fat than white men (Vickery et al, 1988; Wagner and Heyward, 2000). All in all, there are specific genetic variants and physiologic effects, which cause West African men to have lower central (abdominal) adiposity than European men and black women who live in the same environment as black men—implying that genetic and physiologic differences between the sexes are the cause for this disparity. Whatever the case may be, it’s interesting and more studies need to be taken out so we can see how whatever gene variants are *identified* as protecting against central adiposity work in concert with the system to produce the protective effect. Black American men have lower body fat, therefore they would have, in theory, a higher metabolic rate and be less likely to be obese—while black women have the reverse compared to white women—a lower metabolic rate.
Skeletal muscle fiber
Skeletal muscle fibers are the how and why of black domination in explosive sports. This is something I’ve covered in depth. Type II fibers contract faster than type I. This has important implications for certain diseases that black men are more susceptible to. Though the continuous contraction of the fibers during physical activity leads to a higher disease susceptibility in black men—but not white men (Tanner et al, 2001). If you’re aware of fiber type differences between the races (Ama et al, 1986; Entine, 2000; Caeser and Henry, 2015); though see Kerr (2010’s) article The Myth of Racial Superiority in Sports for another view. That will be covered here in the future.
Nevertheless, fiber typing explains racial differences in sports, with somatype being another important variable in explaining racial disparities in sports. Two main variables that work in concert are the somatype (pretty much body measurements, length) and the fiber type. This explains why blacks dominate baseball and football; this explains why ‘white men can’t jump and black men can’t swim’. Physiological variables—not only ‘motivation’ or whatever else people who deny these innate differences say—largely explain why there are huge disparities in these sports. Physiology is important to our understanding of how and why certain groups dominate certain sports.
This is further compounded by differing African ethnies excelling in different running sports depending on where their ancestors evolved. Kenyans have an abundance of type I fibers whereas West Africans have an abundance of type II fibers. (Genetically speaking, ‘Jamaicans’ don’t exist; genetic testing shows them to come from a few different West African countries.) Lower body symmetry—knees and ankles—show that they’re more symmetrical than age-matched controls (Trivers et al, 2014). This also goes to show that you can’t teach speed (Lombardo and Deander, 2014). Though, of course, training and the will to want to do your best matter as well—you just cannot excel in these competitions without first and foremost having the right physiologic and genetic make-up.
Further, although it’s only one gene variant, ACTN3 and ACE explain a substantial percentage of sprint time variance, which could be the difference between breaking a world record and making a final (Papadimitriou et al, 2016). So, clearly, certain genetic variants matter more than others—and the two best studied are ACTN3 and ACE. Some authors, though, may deny the contribution of ACTN3 to elite athletic performance—like one researcher who has written numerous papers on ACTN3, Daniel MacArthur. However, elite sprinters are more likely to carry the RR ACTN3 genotype compared to the XX ACTN3 genotype, and the RR ACTN3 genotype—when combined with type II fibers and morphology—lead to increased athletic performance (Broos et al, 2016). It’s also worth noting that 2 percent of Jamaicans carry the XX ACTN3 genotype (Scott et al, 2010), so this is another well-studied variable that lends to superior running performance in Jamaicans.
In regards to Kenyans, of course when you are talking about genetic reasons for performance, some people don’t like it. Some may say that certain countries dominate in X, and that for instance, North Africa is starting to churn out elite athletes, should we begin looking for genetic advantages that they possess (Hamilton, 2000)? Though people like Hamilton are a minority view in this field, I have read a few papers that there is no evidence that Kenyans possess a pulmonary system that infers a physiologic advantage over whites (Larsen and Sheel, 2015).
People like these three authors, however, are in the minority here and there is a robust amount of research that attests to East African running dominance being genetic/physiologic in nature—though you can’t discredit SES and other motivating variables (Tucker, Onywera, and Santos-Concejero, 2015). Of course, a complex interaction between SES, genes, and environment are the cause of the success of the Kalenjin people of Kenya, because they live and train in such high altitudes (Larsen, 2003), though the venerable Bengt Saltin states that the higher Vo2 max in Kenyan boys is due to higher physical activity during childhood (Saltin et al, 1995).
The last variable I will focus on (I will cover more in the future) is blood pressure. It’s well known that blacks have higher blood pressure than whites—with black women having a higher BP than all groups—which then leads to other health implications. Some reasons for the cause are high sodium intake in blacks (Jones and Hall, 2006); salt (Lackland, 2014; blacks had a similar sensitivity than whites, but had a higher blood pressure increase); while race and ethnicity was a single independent predictor of hypertension (Holmes et al, 2013). Put simply, when it comes to BP, ethnicity matters (Lane and Lip, 2001).
While genetic factors are important in showing how and why certain ethnies have higher BP than others, social factors are arguably more important (Williams, 1992). He cites stress, socioecologic stress, social support, coping patterns, health behavior, sodium, calcium, and potassium consumption, alcohol consumption, and obesity. SES factors, of course, lead to higher rates of obesity (Sobal and Stunkard, 1989; Franklin et al, 2015). So, of course, environmental/social factors have an effect on BP—no matter if the discrimination or whatnot is imagined by the one who is supposedly discriminated against, this still causes physiologic changes in the body which then lead to higher rates of BP in certain populations.
Poverty does affect a whole slew of variables, but what I’m worried about here is its effect on blood pressure. People who are in poverty can only afford certain foods, which would then cause certain physiologic variables to increase, exacerbating the problem (Gupta, de Wit, and McKeown, 2007). Whereas diets high in protein predicted lower BP in adults (Beundia et al, 2015). So this is good evidence that the diets of blacks in America do increase BP, since they eat high amounts of salt, low protein and high carb diets.
Still, others argue that differences in BP between blacks and whites may not be explained by ancestry, but by differences in education, rather than genetic factors (Non, Gravlee, and Mulligan, 2012). Their study suggests that educating black Americans on the dangers and preventative measures of high BP will reduce BP disparities between the races. This is in-line with Williams (1992) in that the social environment is the cause for the higher rates of BP. One hypothesis explored to explain why this effect with education was greater in blacks than whites was that BP-related factors, such as stress, poverty and racial discrimination (remember, even if no racial discrimination occurs, any so-called discrimination is in the eye of the beholder so that will contribute to a rise in physiologic variables) and maybe social isolation may be causes for this phenomenon. Future studies also must show how higher education causes lower BP, or if it only serves as other markers for the social environment. Nevertheless, this is an important study in our understanding of how and why the races differ in BP and it will go far to increase our understanding of this malady.
This is not an exhaustive list—I could continue writing about other variables—but these three are some of the most important as they are a cause for higher mortality rates in America. Understanding the hows and whys of these variables will have us better equipped to help those who suffer from diseases brought on by these differences in physiological factors.
The cause for some of these physiologic differences come down to evolution, but still others may come down to the immediate obesogenic environment (Lake and Townshend, 2006) which is compounded by lower SES. Since high carbs diets increase BP, this explains part of the reason why blacks have higher BP, along with social and genetic factors. Muscle fiber typing is set by the second trimester, and no change is seen after age 6 (Bell, 1980). Resting metabolic rate gap differences between black and white women can be closed, but not completely, if black women were to engage in exercise that use their higher amounts of type II muscle fibers (Tanner et al, 2001). This research is important to understand differences in racial mortality; because when we understand them then we can begin to theorize on how and why we see these disparities.
Physiologic differences between the races are interesting, they’re easily measurable and they explain both disparities in sports and mortality by different diseases. Once we study these variables more, we will be better able to help people with these variables—race be dammed. Race is a predictor here, only because race is correlated with other variables that lead to negative health outcomes. So once we understand how and why these differences occur, then we can help others with similar problems—no matter their race.