Original Research Article
Skin pigmentation, self-perceived color, and arterial blood pressure in Puerto Rico
Version of Record online: 25 FEB 2005
Copyright © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
American Journal of Human Biology
Volume 17, Issue 2, pages 195–206, March/April 2005
How to Cite
Gravlee, C. C. and Dressler, W. W. (2005), Skin pigmentation, self-perceived color, and arterial blood pressure in Puerto Rico. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 17: 195–206. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.20111
- Issue online: 25 FEB 2005
- Version of Record online: 25 FEB 2005
- Manuscript Accepted: 6 DEC 2004
- Manuscript Revised: 24 NOV 2004
- Manuscript Received: 15 JUL 2004
Darker skin color has been associated with higher average blood pressure in several African-derived populations in the Americas. This pattern has been interpreted as evidence of genetic, physiologic, or sociocultural mechanisms, but existing evidence does not provide an adequate means of evaluating these alternatives. This paper introduces a measurement strategy to isolate the cultural and biological dimensions of skin color, and it develops a specific hypothesis regarding the cultural significance of skin color in Puerto Rico and its relationship to arterial blood pressure. Data come from a face-to-face survey in southeastern Puerto Rico (N = 100). There is no association between blood pressure and skin pigmentation, as measured by reflectance spectrophotometry. However, the discrepancy between self-perceived color and skin pigmentation, a measure we call “color incongruity,” is associated with systolic blood pressure (SBP) through an interaction with socioeconomic status (SES) (P = 0.009). For low-SES respondents, darker self-ratings of color relative to skin pigmentation are associated with higher mean SBP. For high-SES respondents, however, darker self-ratings of color relative to pigmentation are associated with lower mean SBP. We interpret this pattern as evidence that the relationship between skin color and blood pressure is mediated by sociocultural processes, and we highlight the need for testable hypotheses and appropriate measurement operations in research on racial inequalities in health. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 17:195–206, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.