Study finds racial discrimination leads to decrease in children’s health

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UCR’s Center for Healthy Communities found that children previously exposed to racial discrimination, regardless of socioeconomic status and ethnicity, had experienced a significant decrease in overall health. Ashaunta Anderson, assistant professor at UCR’s School of Medicine, is the lead author of this study, presented on May 7 at the Pediatric Academic Society’s meeting in San Francisco. Anderson explained her study in detail in an interview with the Highlander.

The study included 95,677 participants, who were all children under the age of 17 years old and selected from two national surveys — the 2011-2012 immunization survey and the survey of children’s health, sponsored by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because the CDC conducted the survey through random digit dialing, the socio-economic status of the participants varied from low to high and all medical histories were self-reported by the parents of the child.

Anderson’s focus on racial discrimination was influenced “by the recent significance on social determinants of health, as in what’s going in children that’s impacting the health of children and how it was affecting school readiness,” she said.

“Of those household(s) that had reported excellent health, the intervention group actually had a 5.4 percent decrease in report of excellent health compared to control group children,” said Anderson. In the outcome category of ADHD, “the parents whose children experienced racial discrimination had an increase of 3.2 percent in their reports of ADHD compared to the parents who said their children did not experience racial discrimination.”

The second set of results separated the group of participants into four race ethnicity groups — white, black, Hispanic and other — while still analyzing the same four outcome categories. “We found that, for the excellent health outcome, there was a drop in report of excellent health when children experienced racial discrimination in all four race (and) ethnicity groups,” Anderson elaborated. The most unexpected result was a “decrease in excellent health of 9.2 percent for the white race ethnicity group,” which she hopes to explore further in the future if provided more funding. Similar results were obtained in the ADHD group where all four racial categories experienced an increase of 3 to 4 percent in ADHD.

The groups of participants were broken down even further into low, middle and high socio-economic groups within the racial groups. However, another unexpected result was that “high-income white children experienced the highest decrease in excellent health,” explained Anderson.

A path analysis was also conducted to test whether racial discrimination went through a path of anxiety and depression before it landed at the excellent health outcome. “What we saw was that, minority children were more likely to experience racial discrimination. On the other hand, all of the children who experienced racial discrimination, were more likely to experience anxiety and depression. Finally, of all the children who had anxiety and depression, they had the poor health outcomes,” mentioned Anderson.

Anderson also spoke of several ways she hopes that the information provided by this study can be used to help children, specifically through racial socialization, or “the process by which children learn to navigate race issues in the world.” She explains that “this strategy that has been studied and linked to good health outcomes is called cultural pride reinforcement, which involves children feeling good about their cultural background, understanding the history and the culture and appreciating the traditions.”

This reinforcement has been linked to better mental health outcomes, better behavior outcomes and better academic achievement. However, the promotion of mistrust is not a strategy she recommends because it offers no coping mechanisms but still appears to be the most common practice among children who face discrimination. “The preparation for bias, on the other hand, is another good strategy to practice because of the many coping mechanisms it applies,” Anderson concluded.

Anderson’s study can be found on the UCR School of Medicine’s website and she plans to publish it in various pediatric, medical and sociological journals. In the future, she hopes to investigate the results from this study in conjugation with immigration status and religious background, or to investigate the effects of racial discrimination over an extended period of time.

 

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