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Can Racial Discrimination Influence Physical and Mental Health?

A new study by the Mailman School of Public Health finds that racial discrimination is associated with worse self-reported physical and mental health in African Americans, regardless of gender, skin color and socioeconomic indicators.

The population-based investigation was performed in collaboration with the Universities of Alabama, Michigan, and North Carolina. The study sample was unique focusing on young to middle age adults including a wide range of educational attainment and income.

Self-reported racial discrimination was common, according to 75 percent of the participants, but more common in men than in women (78% versus 73%). “Our study shows that perceived discrimination was associated with worse physical and mental health, a finding that persisted after adjusting for age, education and income,” said Luisa Borrell, DDS, PhD, of the Mailman School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology and principal investigator. “However, the associations were stronger for women. Moreover, in women only, perceived discrimination was associated with worse mental health among those with low-income as compared to their high-income counterparts.”

For the first time, researchers investigated the interaction between skin color, a proxy for discrimination, and discrimination as they affect health outcomes. Report conclusions indicate that skin color did not affect the association between perceived discrimination and physical and mental health. However, perceived discrimination and skin color were associated with higher income and higher education. “Specifically, highly educated and high-income African Americans were more likely to report experiencing discrimination and have light skin when compared to their counterparts,” Dr. Borrell observed. “It is possible that lighter skinned African Americans with higher socioeconomic position report more discrimination because they have greater opportunity to be exposed to situations in which they are discriminated or because they are more aware of subtle forms of discrimination.”

In addition to reporting comprehensively on the health effects of discrimination, the study also is unique for the population-based nature of the sample; its focus on young to middle-aged adults; and the wide ranges of educational attainment and income represented in the sample. However, because both exposure and outcome measures were self-reported, it is possible that individuals who reported worse health also tended to report more discrimination.

Source: Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health

Can Racial Discrimination Influence Physical and Mental Health?

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Can Racial Discrimination Influence Physical and Mental Health?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 26, 2019, from
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Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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