African American women who have frequent experiences with racism are at greater risk of developing asthma as adults, according to a study published in 2013.
A new study published online in the journal Chest, followed 38,142 African American women, all of whom are participants in the Black Women’s Health Study (BWHS) between 1997 and 2011. The women completed health questionnaires every two years.
In 1997 and 2009 they provided information about their experiences of “everyday” racism, like poor service in stores or restaurants, and “lifetime” racism, which was discrimination encountered on the job, in housing, and by police.
As experiences of everyday and lifetime racism increased, the incidence of adult-onset asthma also rose, up to a 45 percent increase in women in the highest compared to the lowest category of the racism measures.
Furthermore, the incidence of asthma was increased even more in women who were in the highest category of everyday racism in both 1997 and 2009, and who may have had more consistent experiences of racism over time.
“Racism is a significant stressor in the lives of African American women, and our results contribute to a growing body of evidence indicating that experiences of racism can have adverse effects on health,” says Patricia Coogan, research professor of epidemiology at Boston University.
The hypothesized mechanism linking experiences of racism to asthma incidence is stress and its physiological consequences, particularly effects on the immune system and the airways.
“Given the high prevalence of both asthma and of experiences of racism in African Americans, the association is of public health importance,” Coonan says.
Funding was provided by the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Cancer Institute.
Tom Testa is assistant vice president of public relations at Boston University.