Racism and Child Health: A Review of the Literature and Future Directions

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Abstract

Objective:

Racism is a mechanism through which racial/ethnic disparities occur in child health. To assess the present state of research into the effects of racism on child health, a review of the literature was undertaken.

Methods:

A MEDLINE review of the literature was conducted between October and November 2007. Studies reporting on empirical research relating to racism or racial discrimination as a predictor or contributor to a child health outcome were included in this review. The definition of “child health” was broad and included behavioral, mental, and physical health.

Results:

Forty articles describing empirical research on racism and child health were found. Most studies (65%) reported on research performed on behavioral and mental health outcomes. Other areas studied included birth outcomes, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, and satisfaction with care. Most research has been conducted on African-American samples (70%), on adolescents and on older children, and without a uniformly standardized approach to measuring racism. Furthermore, many studies used measures that were created for adult populations.

Conclusions:

There are a limited number of studies evaluating the relationship between racism and child health. Most studies, to date, show relationships between perceived racism and behavioral and mental health. Future studies need to include more ethnically diverse minority groups and needs to consider studying the effects of racism in younger children. Instruments need to be developed that measure perceptions of racism in children and youth that take into account the unique contexts and developmental levels of children, as well as differences in the perception of racism in different ethnocultural groups. Furthermore, studies incorporating racism as a specific psychosocial stressor that can potentially have biophysiologic sequelae need to be conducted to understand the processes and mechanisms through which racism may contribute to child health disparities.

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