Racial Discrimination in Teen Years Could Create Health Problems

Monday, February 3, 2014 - 11:50

Racial Discrimination in Teen Years Could Create Health Problems

 

Racial discrimination isn't just a civil rights issue — it can also affect teenagers' health, a new study suggests.

Adolescents who experienced frequent racial discrimination without emotional support from parents and peers had higher levels of blood pressure, a higher body mass index, and higher levels of stress-related hormones at age 20, placing them at greater risk for chronic disease as they get older.

While other studies have looked at perceived racial discrimination and health among adults, this study, published Monday in the journal Child Development, is the first of its type to track the effects in youth. The good news: Teens who did receive emotional support didn't show the biological effects of racial discrimination.

Researchers wanted to look at the relationship between racial discrimination and what scientists call allostatic load, basically the "wear and tear" on the body over time caused by frequent and repeated stressors. Frequent activation of the body's stress response causes a cascade of problems including high blood pressure, cardiac disease, stroke and increases in the body's inflammatory response. The researchers also wanted to determine whether parental and peer support would help mediate that stress, leading to potentially better health outcomes.

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