Earlier this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a stunning study titled, “The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health,” which corroborates that racism and systematic oppression has long-term health developmental effects on children, beginning in the womb.
For Black families and other marginalized communities, the effects of racism has an overarching influence on how children in those communities view themselves and their self-worth. These social and economic stresses have been linked to chronic disease including heart disease, hormonal changes and inflammation.
Studies have proved that the adverse risk of racism can be linked to the infant mortality rate among Black mothers. The impact of racism has also been proven to incite “hyper-vigilance in children who sense that they are living in a threatening world, particularly Black male youth,” The New York Times writes.
“By acknowledging the role of racism in child and adolescent health, pediatricians and other pediatric health professionals will be able to proactively engage in strategies to optimize clinical care, workforce development, professional education, systems engagement, and research in a manner designed to reduce the health effects of structural, personally mediated, and internalized racism and improve the health and well-being of all children, adolescents, emerging adults, and their families,” the study states.
Beginning at the premature age of three, children become aware of differences in skin tone. By four, they are able to identify racial stereotypes. From the developmental stages on, the weight of racial disparities becomes even heavier.
The study also hopes to encourage pediatricians to take an active role in their patient communities by hiring inclusive support staff, using imagery of diverse families and toys in their office and offering their practice as a safe space.
“Racism is a significant social determinant of health clearly prevalent in our society now,” said Dr. Maria Trent, a professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, one of the studies co-authors.