Frequent discrimination during youth puts African Americans at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and even stroke later in life, a new study has found, EurekAlert reports.
According to the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia and Emory University, 20-year-old African Americans who had reported repeated discrimination during their childhood experienced a type of biological wear and tear on their body (“allostatic load”), due to the stress, putting them at risk for chronic diseases as they age.
“In the past, health professionals have believed that chronic diseases of aging such as heart disease originate in middle age, shortly before the appearance of symptoms, but our research shows that these illnesses originate much earlier, beginning in childhood and adolescence,” said Gene H. Brody, director of the Center for Family Research at the University of Georgia, who led the study.
Data was collected from 331 young African Americans living in rural Georgia, in small, impoverished towns where unemployment rates are high, EurekAlert notes. Participants, who were also part of the Strong African American Families Healthy Adolescent Project, were surveyed at 16, 17, 18 and 20 years old. The study measured the racial discrimination experienced and the emotional support participants got from their parents and peers. Researchers then determined their allostatic load by measuring blood pressure, body mass index and levels stress-related hormones in their urine.
It wasn’t all bad news, since the study also found that while stress put the youths at risk, emotional support from parents and friends could help ease the damage to their bodies and health.
“This is vital information for those who provide care to rural African-American youth,” says Brody. “The information is also important for public health professionals as they design interventions to prevent chronic diseases of aging among African Americans, and for policymakers as they seek to decrease race-based health discrepancies.”
Read more at EurekAlert.