Racism And Health

The effects of racism are far reaching in today’s society. When values are assigned to a person based on the color of their skin, that will affect a person’s opportunities, education, living situation, and more. What you may not know is that racism will actually affect a person’s health, too. Here’s why that happens, and what can be done to counteract this effect.

Defining Racism

In the context of health, the idea of racism needs to be properly defined. Racism itself is a system that places certain values on an entire group of people, solely based on the way they look, and their skin color. The outcome of racism is that certain groups of people are negatively affected by these values.

The outcomes of racism are far reaching. A person being affected by racist values will find it affects where they live, the education they receive, the way they are treated by law enforcement. The upholding of racist ideals means that people affected by it can’t reach their full potential, or have to work much harder than others to reach it.

How Racism Affects Health

You’ve seen that racism will affect a large amount of an affected person’s life, but you may not be aware that it affects their health, too. The CDC reports that social determinants of wealth, which are affected by racism, will affect health, too.

For example, for those that are experiencing racism, that means they may not be able to access the same earning opportunities that others can. Because of this, they don’t have the same access to healthcare that others would get.

As a result of these factors, we can see how communities affected by racism are seeing their health suffer. The CDC’s research shows that those in racial and minority ethnic groups see higher rates if illness and death. That’s across many varying health conditions, including diabetes, obesity, hypertension, asthma, and heart disease.

Because of this, we can see that the life span of non Hispanic and Black Americans is four years lower than a white American’s, on average.

Racism And Mental Health

When speaking about racism and health, it’s worth noting the effect of racism on mental health in particular.

As people living with the effects of racism are dealing with heightened stress, that creates the conditions for mental illnesses to develop. In a 2019 research review from PubMed Central, racial and ethnic minorities experience higher levels of depression and anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD, psychosis, and more.

They’ll also experience other negative health effects, either as a result of the above disorders, or contributing to them. That includes issues such as poorer sleep and alcohol misuse. It’s also been seen that these minorities are more likely to experience cortisol dysregulation, cortisol being the hormone that helps regulate stress.

Racism And COVID-19

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was real evidence that the virus affected minorities more drastically than white communities. In CDC research, it has been shown that Black, Hispanic, and Alaska Native populations were seeing higher rates of hospitalization and death than white populations.

The results are especially concerning when we remember that research into the ongoing effects of COVID-19 infection has on the body. As it’s a novel virus, there is a lot that doctors still don’t understand about how the illness affects people long term. With long COVID becoming a more common diagnosis, we’re still finding out about how it affects people when they’ve recovered from the initial infection.

Because of this, researchers are still collecting data on how COVID is affecting these minority populations. What is clear is that the impact will continue to be seen for a long time to come.

Health Equity And How It Can Be Achieved

With all this in mind, the next step is to close the gap between white and minority communities, so all can get the best healthcare possible. How can this be achieved?

The CDC as well as other public health bodies are looking into ways to achieve health equity. The CDC in particular has recognised that society as a whole needs to address historical injustice, close the gap on economic and societal disparities, and eliminate any current, preventable disparities.

There are several ways in which this can be achieved:

Addressing social determinants of health: If the issue of racism and health is to be solved, then the wider issues with racism need to be addressed. A lot of the inequities that come with racism lead to health disparities, so by addressing wider issues health will improve.

This includes improving the physical environment, creating better infrastructure in areas that are mostly populated by minorities. It also means improving access to education and work, so those in minorities have the same access to earning opportunities as white communities.

Improving access to healthcare: For white communities, it’s much easier to access healthcare when needed. That’s because they are more likely to have the income to allow them to seek healthcare, and will have appropriate specialists in areas they can easily reach.

To create health equity, the same opportunities need to be made for minorities. That will include ensuring minority communities can access the same job opportunities, and have health care easily reachable from their neighborhoods.

Improving income: Racism will have a huge effect on the income of those affected. They’ll find it much harder to find good paying jobs and better education. That leads to health disparity as these communities won’t be able to afford healthcare when they need it.

As such, the barriers to better income need to be removed. These barriers are everything from redlining minorities so they can’t buy homes and build wealth, all the way to making healthy, nutritious food affordable for all.

As you can see, there’s a lot of work to be done to address racism and its effects on health care. Those experiencing racism see real, tangible effects on their health as a result. Addressing these issues can look like an uphill battle, but the results will be beneficial for all.