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Racial prejudice hurts health outcomes

Article

Study shows that people who live in communities with higher levels of racial prejudice have higher rates of heart disease and mental health problems.

A report from the American Psychological Association found that people who live in communities with higher levels of racial prejudice suffer from more heart disease, mental health issues, and have higher mortality rates.

“Racism is gaining recognition as a fundamental driver of health inequities,” said lead study author Eli Michaels, MPH. The researchers used a variety of sources to measure community-level racial prejudice and included tens of millions of data points from large-scale surveys, internet searches and social media. Three studies analyzed data from Google Trends on how often users’ searches included a racial slur. Four studies analyzed data from Twitter on tweets that included negative sentiments toward people of color. Three studies used data from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of social and political attitudes in the United States. And four studies used data from Project Implicit, an online tool that assesses people’s implicit biases toward various groups. All of the data were coded by geographic area.

The studies examined how these different indicators of area-level racial prejudice correlated with health outcomes among individuals living in those areas, including mortality rates, adverse birth outcomes for mothers and infants, cardiovascular outcomes, mental health and overall self-rated health. All of the studies found an association between communities’ levels of racial prejudice and adverse health outcomes for the people of color who lived there; four studies also showed a similar association among white residents (two studies showed a smaller but still harmful effect on whites compared with people of color).

“As we see from this review, living in an environment with an overall climate that is prejudiced against people of color is not only bad for racially marginalized groups, but for everyone,” said Amani M. Allen, PhD, MPH, a professor of community health sciences and epidemiology at the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health and senior author of the study. “Area-level racial prejudice is a social determinant of population health.”

The researchers have several theories on how racial prejudice affects health outcomes. One is that at an individual level, living in a community with more prejudice could increase the number of prejudiced interactions that a person experiences, causing harmful stress. At the community level, more racial prejudice may lead to less social and emotional support to buffer stressful life events and less political support for policies and programs that could enhance the health and welfare of all community members.

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