According to a study led by Georgia State University, early life stress from racial discrimination puts African Americans at greater risk for accelerated ageing, a marker for premature development of serious health problems and perhaps a shorter life expectancy than their white counterparts.
Using data based on questionnaires as well as blood samples to examine ageing at the cellular level, researchers have found that for African American youth, experiences of early life racial discrimination was influencing an accelerated ageing process within the body.
Racial discrimination acts as a "chronic stressful stimulus" that can wear and tear down body systems. Sierra Carter, an assistant professor of psychology at Georgia State, said: "by following these individuals over time, we can see that this stressor is influencing a physiological weathering process that results in premature ageing of body systems".
Image credit: The Independent
It may be the stress of racial discrimination that influences some of the racial health disparities among African American populations in the US, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Moreover, experiences of racial discrimination were related to elevated depressive symptoms age 10-15 and 20-29, even when controlling for health behaviours like smoking and alcohol use.
By looking at this elevation in depressive symptoms over many years (using data from as far back as 1996), the research team could truly identify these heightened levels of depression as really influencing accelerated ageing.
According to Carter, the ultimate goal for society would be to prevent racial discrimination from happening - this couldn't be more relevant in a time where the Black Lives Matter movement has awakened a global consciousness to the issues of racial inequality and systemic racism that constantly puts black and ethnic-minority people at social disadvantages.
It is time we start to think more critically about how racism can influence both mental and physical health symptoms at an early age in life, and ways that culturally-informed intervention strategies can aid in reducing the long-term impact of this stressor.