Numerous studies have demonstrated the negative health risks directly and indirectly attributed to discrimination. For minority individuals, various aspects of discrimination work uniquely to impact physical and psychological health. In a recent study conducted by Mario Sims of the Department of Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, these factors were individually examined in an effort to better assess exactly how each domain of discrimination influences physical health and specifically, blood pressure. Sims gathered data from the Jackson Heart Study, a broad-based study on heart disease among the African-American population. He looked at how negative coping strategies, such as substance abuse, tobacco use, eating issues, and lack of exercise affected hypertension. Sims focused on four specific dimensions of prejudice and discrimination, namely lifetime discrimination, everyday discrimination, the burden of being discriminated against, and the stress caused by discrimination.
The participants, 4,939 African-American men and women of varying socioeconomic and risk status, ranged between 35 and 84 years of age and were all assessed for hypertension. Sims discovered that more than 59% of the men and 64% of the women had hypertension. Upon further examination, Sims found that the lifetime prevalence of discrimination and the burden associated with discrimination were both significant risk factors for hypertension in the participants. In particular, these factors resulted in an 8% to 9% increase in the likelihood of developing hypertension. Sims also examined stress in relation to discrimination. He said, “Because research suggested that the stressfulness of life events is important for predicting health outcomes, we examined the stress-related item of the burden scale separately and found similar associations.” This suggests that stress caused from discrimination can negatively impact physical health. When Sims studied the correlation between everyday discrimination and hypertension he found no relationship. Additional findings of this study demonstrated that perceptions attributed to discrimination, such as racial bias, also affected hypertension. These results emphasize the importance of addressing healthy coping strategies for individuals experiencing stress from discrimination.
Sims, M., Diez-Roux, A. V., Dudley, A., Gebreab, S., Wyatt, S. B. (2012). Perceived discrimination and hypertension among African Americans in the Jackson Heart Study. American Journal of Public Health 102.S2, S258-265.
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