Racism is Detrimental to Children's Health, Study Finds

Fagjun | Published 2017-05-05 07:56

Exposure to racism makes children prone to developing anxiety, depression, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It can also lead to a lower quality of general health.

Racial discrimination occurs when one person experiences different or harmful treatment due to their race, ethnicity, country of origin, or citizenship. Discrimination can lead to unfair treatment, missed opportunities, and even violence.

Even young children fall victim to discrimination, either from their peers, strangers, or teachers. While we've always known that discrimination can negatively affect individuals, many of us aren't sure exactly what the effects of discrimination are. Now, scientists have pinpointed exact conditions that can arise in children as a result of racial discrimination.

The Impact of Racism

Racial discrimination can affect children in unexpected ways.
[Photo by Chinh Le Duc]

The researchers wanted to find out if there was a correlation between racial discrimination and children's health. They also wanted to know what other things discrimination can cause. To do this, they looked at data from 95,677 young participants in the 2011-12 National Survey on Children's Health. Researchers asked the guardians or caregivers of the participants if the children had ever experienced unfair treatment due to their race, ethnicity, or origin.

The findings were quite intriguing. Some of the conclusions the researchers made weren't all that surprising, but some were unexpected. We can expect racial discrimination to cause emotional or even psychological problems, but it can apparently cause other effects.

Experiencing racism caused a 5.4 % dip in the general health of children. Children from minorities, especially Hispanic populations, who were also from low-income households exhibited the lowest quality of general health. However, a relatively higher economic status did not shield children from the detrimental effects of racism on health. Caucasian children from high-income households who have experienced racial discrimination have also experienced large decreases in health. Black children, meanwhile, were more likely to develop ADHD.

According to the data, children who have experienced discrimination were 3.2% more likely to develop ADHD. They were also twice as likely to develop anxiety and depression compared to children who have not experienced racial discrimination.

Coping Strategies

Thus, not only are young victims of racism more likely to experience emotional and behavioral issues, they were also less likely to be healthy. The findings also suggest that the effects of racial discrimination can occur independently of socioeconomic background. It doesn't matter if children are from lower income families or not. If they experience racial discrimination, they are more likely to develop emotional, behavioral, and health problems.

The researchers say that there is a need for programs and other efforts that support children who have experienced racism. These children need systematic care as well as the opportunity to learn coping strategies. Other recommendations include training parents in positive parenting and promoting positive relationships among peers. With these efforts, children are less likely to suffer from the effects of racial discrimination.

Ashaunta Anderson, MD, MPH, is the lead author of the study, titled "The Detrimental Influence of Racial Discrimination in the United States". She will be presenting the abstract of the study at this year's Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting.

Reference: Adesman A, et al. Abstract. Presented at: The Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting; May 6-9, 2017; San Francisco, CA.

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