Skin Colour Matters When It Comes to Canadians’ Health: Study

Theresa Boyle, Health Zone, October 13, 2011

Skin colour matters when it comes to Canadians’ health, new research shows.

Black Canadians with darker skin are more likely to report poorer health than black Canadians with lighter skin, a study from the University of British Columbia has found.

The study, published online in the current issue of the Social Science & Medicine journal, provides the first Canadian evidence of the health impact of what is known as “colourism”–discrimination targeted more strongly at darker-skinned than lighter-skinned people of colour.

It found that the odds of identifying oneself as having poor overall health are 4.8 times greater for black Canadians with darker skin than black Canadians with lighter skin.

“It is a form of inequality that has implications for health and well-being, so understanding it, pursing it further and having a sense of what is going on is what you have to do before you can start to try to mitigate these inequalities,” said Gerry Veenstra, the study’s author and a professor in the Department of Sociology.

The study involved a telephone survey of nearly 1,500 participants from Toronto and Vancouver in 2009. They self-reported their racial identities as black, Asian, South Asian and white.

Among them were 47 respondents who identified themselves as black Canadians–27 of whom said they had darker skin and 20 of whom said they had lighter skin.

The broad racial classifications typically used by health researchers may actually underestimate the magnitude of racial health inequalities, Veenstra said.

The study also found that mistaking an individual’s racial identity can have significant physical or mental impacts. Participants who reported higher levels of racial identity mismatches were found to be at greater risk of high blood pressure, poorer self-rated mental health and poorer self-rated overall health.

For example, the odds of reporting high blood pressure are two times greater for those who consider themselves to be white, but believe others tend to think they are something else such as mixed-race, than for those who consider themselves to be white and believe others do too. The odds of the former reporting poor mental health are 1.8 times greater.

“This is inherently about social inequality. Uncovering and understanding inequality in Canadian society is of intrinsic interest and importance,” Veenstra said, emphasizing that race is a social construct, not a biological one.

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  • white advocate – Canada

    Yawn. Is this guy going for tenure? He’s got all the slogans lined up. If he’s already got tenure, now that brings up a topic for research. Why do secure professors ignore facts? As Max Weber would ask; how did you choose between your facts and values? So I will ask the obvious. Has he considered IQ?

    I can hardly wait for Phase II of this ground-breaking research.

  • Kenelm Digby

    Of course, Canada being located in the high latitudes and thus receiving little daylight and having long, cold, dark winters is the polar opposite to equatorial Africa where these black Africans originated.

    The Canadian climate cannot be conducive to the good health of tropically derived peoples.

  • Anonymous

    Talk about pseudo science!!!

    I didn’t know you could generate health statistics based on ‘social constructs’… Much less point to social behavior as a cause for what is obviously a genetic predisposition.

  • Anonymous

    Look what they’ve put in place of science. Nothing matters except subjective opinion; perception replaces reality. Whether or not someone actually has a disease is irrelevant–the only thing that matters is reporting it. And the purpose of science is the mitigation or societal inequalities.

    This professor really deserves to live in the kind of world he’s creating.