Racism and Health

A growing body of evidence points to the fact that differences in health outcomes between racial groups are due to the differences in our lived experiences, and not to genetic differences. The primary reason for this is believed to be a long history of racial discrimination and inequality in the U.S. How groups of people are perceived and treated in society is also associated with their socioeconomic status or class.  Lower socioeconomic status translates into poorer health through social isolation and unequal access to the resources that could help us live healthier, longer lives.  Therefore, the issues of race/ethnicity, class and health are closely related.

Source: Santa Clara County Public Health. "Santa Clara County Public Health. Health and Social Equity in Santa Clara County.” 2011. (accessed February 5, 2014)

More than 100 studies now link racism to worse health. Many people of color experience a wide range of serious health issues at higher rates than do whites, including breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, respiratory illness and pain-related problems. On average, African Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and some Asian American groups live shorter lives and have poorer health outcomes than whites.

Class certainly plays a role. Because of historical discrimination and structural racism, people of color are likely to be less wealthy, to have less education and to live in segregated communities with underfunded schools, insufficient services, poor transportation and housing, and higher levels of exposure to toxic and environmental hazards. Yet socioeconomic status doesn't account for the whole picture. In many instances, African Americans and other groups fare worse than whites at the same income levels. In fact, infant mortality rates among babies born to college-educated African American women are higher than those of white Americans who haven't finished high school. Recent Latino immigrants, though typically poorer, are healthier than the average American; yet the longer they're here, the more their relative health status declines even as their socioeconomic situation improves. Racism has proven to be a factor affecting health "upstream" and independent of class.

Source: California Newsreel. “Unnatural Causes: Backgrounders from the Unnatural Causes Health Equity Database.” 2008. (access July 6, 2015)

Other SDOH

Neighborhood Conditions
Access to Health Care

Additional SDOH Resources

Center for Health Statistics
Minnesota Department of Health
Golden Rule Building, 3rd Floor
85 East Seventh Place
PO Box 64882
St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A. 55164-0882
E-mail: *mdh_healthstats@state.mn.us

Updated Monday, April 25, 2016 at 03:42PM