Race Matters

Bias's Toll

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Price African Americans who experience racial discrimination have poorer physical and mental health than others, finds a study out of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

Health problems -- including depression, emotional troubles and physical conditions that limit daily activity -- were greater even when researchers corrected for socioeconomic factors such as education and income.

Three-quarters of the study's subjects reported facing at least some racial discrimination, said lead researcher Luisa N. Borrell. Findings appeared in the online edition of Social Science & Medicine.

The Study Borrell and her colleagues analyzed data from interviews with 1,722 people, ages 33 to 45, who had identified themselves as African American or black and non-Hispanic and who hailed from Birmingham, Chicago, Minneapolis or Oakland.

Participants were asked how often they had experienced discrimination in various settings, such as job-hunting and seeking housing. They also answered questions about their health, education and income, and let researchers measure their skin tone. Self-reports may limit the data's reliability, acknowledged Borrell.

But the findings are consistent with data suggesting that racism leads to inferior medical care, says psychiatrist William B. Lawson of Howard University Hospital.

"African Americans are less likely to get various kinds of medical procedures and more likely to be misdiagnosed with certain mental disorders," he says.

The Analysis Among African Americans, what makes someone more susceptible to discrimination and related health problems? Sex and status, apparently, more than skin tone. Low-income black women, for example, reported more health problems than their high-income peers. But black people with the most education and black women who earned the most money had the highest odds of facing prejudice.

-- Ben Harder

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