Racial discrimination can have serious health consequences. A new study led by the University of California, Irvine has found that more self-reported incidents among black and Latino adults corresponded to higher blood pressure levels, putting these populations at greater risk for cardiovascular disease.

“We discovered significant racial and ethnic differences, with non-Latino black and Latina and Latino adults reporting greater increases in both interpersonal and institutional discrimination compared with non-Latino white adults,” said Alana LeBrón, UCI assistant professor of Chicano/Latino studies and public health. “Our findings link increased frequency to significant elevation in cardiovascular risk for black adults and Latina/o adults during a relatively short period of time: six years.”

Published online in the journal Ethnicity & Health, study results are based on a review of the Healthy Environments Partnership community surveys conducted in three areas of Detroit in 2002-03 and 2007-08.

In face-to-face interviews, participants recounted the number of times they had experienced interpersonal discrimination, including being treated as if they were less intelligent and receiving poor service, as well as instances of institutional bias, such as difficulty in obtaining housing or healthcare. Blood pressure readings were collected three times during each interview period, and correlations were tracked by race and ethnicity for non-Latino black, Latino and non-Latino white adults.

“A unique feature of this data set is that it provided experience and health variables from the same participants over time, facilitating an examination of changes in discrimination and cardiovascular risk,” LeBrón said. “If we are to improve the health of our society and eliminate health inequities, we must invest in undoing and eliminating racism, nativism, classism – all of the ‘isms.’”

Co-authors on the study are Amy J. Schulz, Graciela Mentz, Barbara A. Israel and James S. House of the University of Michigan; Angela G. Reyes and Cindy Gamboa of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corp.; and Edna A. Viruell-Fuentes of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The work was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (R01ES10936 and R01ES014234), the National Institute on Minority Health & Health Disparities (P60MD002249 and 5-R25-GM-058641-11) and the University of Michigan National Center for Institutional Diversity.

-Pat Harriman and Heather Ashbach, UCI

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