HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Monday, May 2, 2005

Discrimination and Health

Sunday's Washington Post has a very interesting article entitled, "Study Links Discrimination, Blacks' Health," which examines a recently completed study on the impact that discrimination may have on racial minorities and their health.   As Rob Stein reports,

[Tene T. Lewis, a health psychologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago] and her colleagues studied 181 black women ages 45 to 58 in Chicago and Pittsburgh who are participating in a large, ongoing project, called the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN), that is examining a host of health issues among middle-age women.

As part of the SWAN project, every year between 1996 and 2001 the women answered a questionnaire designed to measure encounters with subtle racial discrimination. The questionnaire asked each woman if, in her "day-to-day life," she had had one of 10 experiences, including: "You are treated with less courtesy than other people"; "You receive poorer service than other people at restaurants or stores"; and "People ignore you or act as if you are not there."

"We're not talking overt incidents. It's not racism in the form of being chased down the street because you have brown skin or being called a name," Lewis said. "We're talking about subtleties -- everyday insults that build up over time."

The women's scores over the years were averaged on a four-point scale, and in 2001 the participants underwent an examination known as a CT scan to measure coronary artery calcification -- buildup of calcium inside arteries that supply blood to the heart. It is considered an early stage of heart disease -- the nation's leading cause of death.

The more discrimination the women reported, the more likely they were to have calcification, the researchers found. After accounting for age, geographic location and education, the researchers found that for every unit of increase in perceived discrimination, the odds of having calcification nearly tripled. The chances of having calcification remained 2 1/2 times higher even after the researchers took into consideration such factors as high blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, age and body weight.


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