Discrimination Contributes to Asian American Health Disparities

In recent years, a number of research studies on African American health disparities have indicated that there is a connection between racism and poor health outcomes in the black community. Now, a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health has found that this deadly correlation also holds true for Asian Americans. The landmark study, published in the July 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, has been called “the first national exploration of a link between [racial] discrimination and health problems among Asian Americans.”

The researchers examined survey responses about health status and perceived discrimination from more than 2,000 Asian American adults. The study participants–who were primarily of Chinese, Filipino or Vietnamese descent–were asked about their experiences of “unfair treatment” in their day-to-day life, such as being subjected to disrespect, rudeness, insulting behavior, harassment and poor service. They were also asked to give their medical histories.

The findings revealed a definite connection between discrimination and chronic health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and respiratory illness. For Filipino Americans–who reported the highest level of discrimination, followed by Chinese Americans–the stress caused by experiencing racial bias resulted primarily in respiratory problems and chronic pain. For study participants of Chinese descent, discrimination was more likely to be associated with heart disease, while Vietnamese American respondents were most likely to report all three of these conditions.

“[Today,] most people think of discrimination as the [committing] of a hate crime,” says the study’s lead author, assistant professor Gilbert Gee. “But it’s important to realize that discrimination occurs on a daily basis. What the research is showing is that everyday slights can turn into long-term health effects. Discrimination is associated with [many] different health outcomes, from mental health problems like depression to substance use, tobacco use and heart disease.”

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