Lehman Professor’s New Study Shows the Health Effects of Racial Discrimination

October 24, 2012 1:31 pm Health Sciences Dept, School of Natural and Social Sciences

Dr. Louisa Borrell

Health Sciences Chair, Dr. Luisa N. Borrell will soon publish an article in Ethnicity & Health, an international journal that explores how racial discrimination and segregation impacts personal health behaviors.

Dr. Borrell and her co-authors, including researchers from the University of Massachusetts, the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and the University of North Carolina, examined records from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) that has been ongoing since 1985 in four U.S. cities: Birmingham, Alabama; Oakland, California; Chicago, Illinois; and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

What they found is that African Americans who report that they have experienced racial discrimination—89 percent of those surveyed—were more likely to smoke, drink, and be more physically active than African-Americans who did not report racial discrimination. While only 40 percent of whites reported experiencing racial discrimination, those who reported were more likely to smoke and be physically active than those who did not—it had no effect on their drinking habits. Racial discrimination affected these behaviors regardless of whether African Americans or whites lived in a segregated neighborhood or not.

“Racial discrimination is a stress on people’s lives, a psychological stress that may affect health through adoption of healthy and unhealthy behaviors as the survey clearly shows,” says Dr. Borrell. “To buffer or reduce the effects of racial discrimination, people may not only become more physically active but may also drink and smoke.”

The study also showed, she said, that African-Americans with higher incomes are more likely to report higher levels of racial discrimination than their low income peers. Wealthier whites did not report higher levels of discrimination but poorer whites did.

Dr. Borrell has a Ph.D. in epidemiologic science from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and an M.P.H. from Columbia University’s School of Public Health. She also has a D.D.S. from Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine.

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