Health Inequities and Racial Discrimination and Prejudice

What’s New in Psychology?

Health Inequities and Racial Discrimination and Prejudice

Jim Windell

             If you personally experience prejudice, you will suffer emotionally and psychologically. And it is highly likely that being subjected to racism and prejudice will even be traumatic to you, potentially leading to PTSD.

            I think we all realize that anyone who has to endure prejudice will pay a personal price.

            But, what about an entire community? Will a community in which there is considerable racism and prejudice show signs of harm?

            That is the question that researchers from the University of California, Berkeley had in mind when doing a systematic review of several papers and surveys.

           The researchers used a variety of sources to measure community-level racial prejudice and included tens of millions of data points from large-scale surveys, internet searches and social media. Three studies analyzed data from Google Trends on how often users’ searches included a racial slur. Four studies analyzed data from Twitter on tweets that included negative sentiments toward people of color. Three studies used data from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of social and political attitudes in the United States. And four studies used data from Project Implicit, an online tool that assesses people’s implicit biases toward various groups. All of the data were coded by geographic area.

           Examining how these different indicators of area-level racial prejudice correlated with health outcomes among individuals living in those areas, researchers included mortality rates, adverse birth outcomes for mothers and infants, cardiovascular outcomes, mental health and overall self-rated health. All of the studies used in this research found an association between communities’ levels of racial prejudice and adverse health outcomes for the people of color who lived there; four studies also showed a similar association among white residents (two studies showed a smaller but still harmful effect on whites compared with people of color).

           The results were recently published in the journal Health Psychology. Those results indicate that people who live in communities with higher levels of racial prejudice have worse health outcomes, including more heart disease and mental health problems and higher overall mortality rates than people who live in areas with lower levels of racial prejudice.

           According to lead study author Eli Michaels, MPH, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, “Racism is gaining recognition as a fundamental driver of health inequities. Leveraging big data to capture area-level racial prejudice is one innovative approach to measuring the overall racial climate in which people live, work, play and pray. The studies included in this review revealed that living in an area with high levels of racial prejudice may harm health and widen racial health inequities.”

           And senior author of the study Amani M. Allen, PhD, MPH, a professor of community health sciences and epidemiology at the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health, added that “The majority of research on racial discrimination and health to date has focused on experiences at the individual level. The emerging body of work examined in this review is an important step in going above the level of the individual to capture the context of place and how it may impact the health of people living in those places.”

          Allen also said that “As we see from this review, living in an environment with an overall climate that is prejudiced against people of color is not only bad for racially marginalized groups, but for everyone. Area-level racial prejudice is a social determinant of population health.”

           How does community racial prejudice harm the health of residents? There are various theories as to how that harm comes about. Researchers say that one theory is that at an individual level, living in a community with more prejudice could increase the number of prejudiced interactions that a person experiences, causing harmful stress. However, at the community level, more racial prejudice may erode social capital – defined as "the norms of reciprocity, trust and social obligation” in a community – leading to less social and emotional support to buffer stressful life events and less political support for policies and programs that could enhance the health and welfare of all community members.

          Although more research is needed to untangle the various factors leading to health inequities, for now it is important to keep in mind that not only do individuals suffer from prejudice and discrimination – communities do, too.

          To read the original article, find it with this reference:

Michaels, E., Board, C.A., Mujahid, M.S., Riddell, C.A., Johnson, R.C., Allen, A.M.  & Chae, D.H. (2022). Area-Level Racial Prejudice and Health: A Systematic Review.  Health Psychology, published online March 7, 2022.

Share this post:

Comments on "Health Inequities and Racial Discrimination and Prejudice"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment