Is racism making people sick?

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How the stress of discrimination is widening the racial health gap.

A year into the pandemic, Covid-19’s unequal death toll in the US has taken the lives of Black Americans at twice the rate of white Americans. That disparity — and the broader racial mortality gap that has existed for as long as we’ve had recorded health data — is the result of systemic racism in housing, education, and other social determinants of health.

But there’s a growing body of evidence that the experience of racial prejudice itself plays a significant role in those health disparities, too. In 1992, public health scientist Arline Geronimus coined the term “weathering” to describe this phenomenon, where adverse social conditions cause a chronic release of stress hormones that contributes to shorter lifespans and earlier onset of disease.

In this final installment of Glad You Asked episodes exploring racial injustice, we look into how the stresses of interpersonal discrimination are worsening health outcomes for marginalized people.

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Further reading:

“‘Weathering’ and Age Patterns of Allostatic Load Scores Among Blacks and Whites in the United States,” American Journal of Public Health

Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit by Mary-Frances Winters

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Racial Differences in Physical and Mental Health: Socio-economic Status, Stress and Discrimination,” Journal of Health Psychology

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