High-Effort Coping and Cardiovascular Disease among Women: A Systematic Review of the John Henryism Hypothesis.

Felix AS, Shisler R, Nolan TS, Warren BJ, Rhoades J, Barnett KS, Williams KP
J Urban Health 96 12-22 03/01/2019


African-American women living in the United States experience higher cardiovascular disease risk (CVD) mortality compared to White women. Unique mechanisms, including prolonged high-effort coping in the face of discriminatory stressors might contribute to these racial disparities. The John Henryism hypothesis is a conceptual framework used to explain poor health outcomes observed among individuals with low resources who repeatedly utilize active coping to overcome barriers. The aims of our study were to summarize the literature related to John Henryism and CVD-related factors with a particular focus on women and to identify gaps for areas of future inquiry. We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, Scopus, and CINAHL to identify literature that used the John Henryism Active Coping scale. Reviewers independently reviewed eligible full-text study articles and conducted data extraction. We qualitatively summarized the literature related to John Henryism and cardiovascular disease (CVD)-related health behaviors (e.g., smoking or physical activity) and risk factors (e.g., hypertension) with a focus on study populations inclusive of women. Our review included 21 studies that used the John Henryism Active Coping scale, of which 10 explicitly reported on the interaction between John Henryism and socioeconomic status (SES) and CVD-related factors. With respect to the original hypothesis, three studies reported results in line with the hypothesis, four were null, and three reported findings in opposition to the hypothesis. The remaining studies included in the review examined the main effects of John Henryism, with similarly mixed results. The literature related to the interaction between John Henryism and SES on CVD-related factors among women is mixed. Additional studies of John Henryism that incorporate biological measures, varied indicators of resources, and larger study populations may illuminate the relationship between coping and deleterious health outcomes among women.

Full Text