Posted on September 9, 2005

Racial Discrimination Harms Health, Study

Medical News Today, Sept. 7

First national study shows black immigrants’ health erodes the longer they live in the US —

In the first national study of its kind, a UC Irvine sociologist finds that black immigrants who arrive in America from black-majority regions of the world are healthier than those from white-majority regions; still, regardless of how healthy black immigrants are when they come to the U.S., the longer they stay, the more their health erodes. The findings suggest racial discrimination is a major cause of poor health for American blacks — native and foreign born alike.

UCI’s Jen’nan Ghazal Read and Rice University’s Michael O. Emerson examined the health of more than 2,900 black immigrants coming from the top regions of emigration: the West Indies, Africa, South America and Europe. Compared to U.S.-born blacks, those born in Europe — a majority-white region that most closely resembles the U.S.’s racial structure — are the least healthy, faring no better than American-born blacks. Blacks born in Africa and South America, where whites are the minority, are much healthier than U.S.-born blacks. Those born in the West Indies, a racially mixed region, are healthier than U.S.-born blacks, but less healthy than those from black-majority regions. According to Read, racial minorities are exposed to more stressful life events caused by discrimination. Stress, a key risk factor for many ailments, accumulates over the life course to harm health.

The study, published in the September issue of Social Forces, is the first to look at the health of black immigrants by their region of origin. Prior to 2000, national-level health data combined all black immigrants into a single category, which obscured the differences among them. This study shows the value of breaking them out as individual groups by their home region.

“These findings do not bode well for the persistent black/white health gap in America,” said Read, an assistant professor of sociology and lead author of the study. “Any health advantage that black immigrants have when they arrive is lost as they, and then their children, blend into America’s racial landscape and suffer the consequences of being black in the United States.”