Research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2017 Meeting shows a link between exposure to racism and detrimental effects on children’s health. The study shows that children who were “judged or treated unfairly” due to their race or ethnicity, as reported by their caregiver, had double the chances of developing anxiety or depression versus those who had not experienced discrimination.
In a press release from the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, Dr. Ashaunta Anderson, lead author of the study, stated:
“Our findings suggest that racial discrimination contributes to race-based disparities in child health, independent of socioeconomic factors.”
The study, which was presented by Dr. Anderson on May 7, also found that children who experienced racial discrimination found a decrease in being described as “excellent health” by 5.4% and an increase in the diagnosis of ADHD by 3.2%. These results were seen across different races and ethnicities, regardless of socioeconomic factors.
In a time when more attention is being paid to the negative health outcomes brought on by racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination, studies like this shine a light on how these types of discrimination can affect the vulnerable members of a society in ways that are often invisible. Although similar research has been conducted, showing the negative effects of racism on mental health, much of the existing literature does not properly account for different outcomes across different populations, such as race or ethnicity.
The researchers analyzed 95,677 responses from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health. Specifically, they compared children from similar backgrounds, accounting for race, ethnicity, age, gender, socioeconomic background, and other factors, and compared the health outcomes of each group of those who reported discrimination versus those who had not reported discrimination.
This “apples to apples” comparison clearly delineated the negative health outcomes for children who experienced racial discrimination, from being more likely to have anxiety and depression, to having lower odds of excellent health and much higher odds of ADHD. These results were seen across socioeconomic and racial lines, which found that factors such as high income and exposure to discrimination “were associated with greater decrements in general health in White children and more ADHD in Black children.”
These results show the deleterious effects of discrimination, particularly racial discrimination, of children in ways that are often difficult to quantify. The authors of the study note that, “programs that provide positive parenting practices training and promote positive peer and role model relationships can help buffer children from the negative health effects of discrimination.”
However, studies such as this one also provide evidence of the health effects of racism and valuable data that may be used in addressing health disparities at a systemic level, rather than placing the onus back on the victims of discrimination.