Sep 18

Can Discrimination Negatively Affect Health?

In the United States, minorities have an increasingly disproportionate rate of diseases, injuries and premature death.  Discrimination has received national attention in regards to law enforcement and education, but can it affect public health, too? Discrimination is the unequal treatment or negative behavior towards an individual solely based on their membership to another group (Jones, 1997).

There are several ways that race can determine health.  Race normally determines living conditions and opportunities.  These opportunities (sometimes known as white privilege) are not automatically presented for many minority groups.  Lack of opportunity affects education, location, and employment.   Location also influences opportunity and convenience of reliable and quality healthcare.  Finally, many individuals may engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with some of the difficult circumstances that come with being part of a minority group.

Racism and discrimination have negative effects on mental health.  Some studies have found that discrimination not only adds to stress but can be a pathogen in itself (National Institute of Health, 2004).  This is not a new concept.  W.E.B. Du Bois (2003) wrote that “the Negro death rate and sickness are largely matters of condition and not due to racial traits and tendencies.”  Over the lifetime, discrimination and prejudice are internalized, becoming unhealthy for the mind and body.  Even for individuals that have not personally been discriminated against, they can become hyper aware for mistreatment, leading to chronic stress.  After last week’s blog report on stress and gut-wrenching anxiety, it’s no surprise that chronic stress in minority groups would contribute to poor health outcomes.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has instituted several initiatives, with the goal of eliminating health disparity among ethnic minorities in the United States.  Public awareness campaigns continue to encourage people to care for loved ones and seek medical help when needed (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004).





DuBois, W. E. B. (2003). The Health and Physique of the Negro American. American Journal of Public Health93(2), 272–276.

Jones JM. Prejudice and Racism. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1997.

National Institute of Health; Bulatao RA, Anderson NB, editors. (2004). Understanding Racial and Ethnic Differences in Health in Late Life: A Research Agenda. National Academies Press 7, Prejudice and Discrimination. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK24680/

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2004, August). Health Disparities Experienced by Racial/Ethnic Minority Populations. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5333a1.htm

Williams DR, Neighbors HW, Jackson JS. Racial/ethnic discrimination and health: Findings from community studies. American Journal of Public Health. 2003;93

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