A research project that has been in play for over two decades recently revealed that African Americans age faster as a result of racial discrimination. The findings show that when racism is experienced early in life, it can result in wearing Black people down, detremently impacting their health.
The study titled, “The Effect of Early Discrimination on Accelerated Aging Among African Americans,” is published on the American Psychological Association’s website, and conducted by researchers from several colleges collaborating with the University of Georgia’s Center for Family Research.
It followed 800 families over the course of 25 years and those participants who said they had experienced significant racism as adolescents had also reported more depression in their 20s than those who had not. In turn, blood samples showed that the increase in depression actually aged them on a cellular level. The findings, researchers say, illustrate how racism fuels mental and physical health disparities found in the African American community.
“These findings support research conceptualizations that early life stress due to racial discrimination lead to sustained negative affective states continuing into young adulthood that confer risk for accelerated aging, and possibly premature disease and mortality in African Americans,” the study reads. “These findings advance knowledge of potential underlying mechanisms that influence racial health disparities.”
Racial status, the study says, is one of the first things a Black child learns. In addition, a child is exposed to “race-related stressors” that affect the body’s responses and can lead to chronic psychological and physical ailments. Enough of these over time wind up accelerating the aging process more so than for those who are less affected by high incidents of racism.
Sierra Carter, an associate professor of psychology at Georgia State University, one of the researchers, wrote in The Conversation, an independent news website, that the study is not the first of its kind to find that racism can affect health outcomes for Black people. Still it adds to the body of knowledge on the subject. With the coronavirus pandemic shedding light on health disparities among people of color, poverty, lack of access to health care and unemployment are factors in the problem.
“In 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics identified racism as having a profound impact on the health of children, adolescents, emerging adults and their families,” Carter wrote. “Our findings support this conclusion – and show the need for society to truly reflect on the lifelong impact racism can have on a Black child’s ability to prosper in the U.S.”