Faculty Editor: Dr. Heather Olins
American epidemiologists, physicians, and other health professionals have been working tirelessly to close the various disparities that exist between white people and minority populations regarding access to quality healthcare. Something that continues to be an issue is the shocking differences in healthcare delivery between various racial groups, especially between white and black children in America.
Race, among other social factors, like socioeconomic status, education, physical environment, and access to health care, influence one’s health and ability to lead healthy lives. The stress of systemic racism that pervades all facets of life, like the workplace, school, and the justice system can cause biological responses in the body that can then manifest itself in a multitude of ways, with children sometimes being the most affected. While children are still developing and being influenced by their families, friends, and communities, they may be witnessing distressing events that they are not equipped to handle. Having the constant stress of race related issues can cause physical illness due to heightened cortisol levels, or can cause mental illnesses, such as depression (Trent et al., 2019).
According to a study conducted by Heard-Garris, et al. in 2018, racial stress can manifest itself in numerous pre- and post-birth health effects. Pre-birth effects originate from racial stress on the mother, and can be seen in higher premature birth rates for women of color, and lower than average birth weights in comparison to white children. Post-birth mental and physical effects can be seen throughout childhood and the rest of the child’s lifetime. Higher incidence of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and obesity are among the ways that people of color are affected by dealing with racism (Heard-Garris, et al, 2018).
Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a statement entitled “The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health” to attempt to close the gap of these disparities between white and minority children. The AAP offered many ways for healthcare providers to accommodate their patients, including ways to optimize their clinical practices. Such efforts include through training staff in cultural competency skills, evaluating patients who experience racism for adverse mental and physical effects, and providing ample support and resources for children and families. Making children and their parents more welcome in the doctor’s office can lead to a more trusting relationship between the child and pediatrician, allowing for better health outcomes for the child. Another large pillar of the AAP’s report called for structural changes in policies, and improvement in community activism and engagement, largely in the educational sphere, since so much of a child’s life is spent in school. This can be addressed by advocating for better mental health support in local public school systems, healthier school breakfast and lunch options, and implicit bias training for teachers and other school faculty members.
Addressing the many facets of a child’s life can lead to fixing the health disparities that exist between white and minority children. Focusing on providing standardized healthcare practices for all patients can drive a happier, healthier America.
- Heard-Garris, N. J., Cale, M., Camaj, L., Hamati, M. C., & Dominguez, T. P. (2017, April 26). Transmitting Trauma: A systematic review of vicarious racism and child health. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953617302411?via=ihub.
- Trent, M., Dooley, D. G., & Dougé, J. (2019, August 1). The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health. Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/144/2/e20191765. Heard-Garris, N. J., Cale, M., Camaj, L., Hamati, M. C., & Dominguez, T. P. (2017, April 26). Transmitting Trauma: A systematic review of vicarious racism and child health. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953617302411?via=ihub.