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For African American Teens, Exposure to Discrimination Linked to Inflammation

Forming positive racial identity can protect youth from greater inflammation associated with discrimination


inflammation

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How does racial discrimination affect long-term health? In a recent study, IPR health psychologists Edith Chen and Greg Miller and their colleagues consider this question, by examining how discrimination faced by African American teens has an impact on their levels of inflammation—which can often forecast chronic health conditions later in life.

The research team surveyed the teens (aged 17–19) about their experiences with racial discrimination and the formation of their racial identity, asking if being African American was important to them, and whether they embraced positive views and rejected negative stereotypes about African Americans. Later, when the teens surveyed were 22 years old, the researchers took blood samples to measure levels of multiple cytokines—proteins that are involved in generating and maintaining inflammation. The researchers found that teens who faced frequent racial discrimination had higher levels of inflammation by the time they were 22. However, teens with a positive view of their racial identity did not experience the same heightened levels of inflammation, even when faced with frequent discrimination—suggesting that instilling a positive racial identity can keep stress from “getting under the skin.” 

 Greg Miller and Edith Chen are professors of psychology and IPR fellows. They also co-direct the Foundations of Health Research Center. For more information, read “Discrimination, Racial Identity, and Cytokine Levels Among African-American Adolescents," in the Journal of Adolescent Health 56(5): 496-501.