April is National Minority Health Month

Help Your Patients Manage
Racism-Related Health Risks

The AAFP’s theme for National Minority Health Month in 2016, The Psychological Toll of Racism, addresses the need to work toward health equity for all. As family physicians and leaders in your communities, you are uniquely positioned to engage patients and populations about the stress of being a victim of racism and discrimination.

Partnering for Health Equity

Many racial, ethnic, and other minorities experience racism and discrimination as part of their everyday life. Racism and discrimination can exist in subtle ways in personal interactions, or more overtly with physical violence and harassment. It can also exist as part of larger institutional prejudices in the workplace and communities.

In order to recognize racism and discrimination and work towards stamping it out, each year the AAFP participates in National Minority Health Month(minorityhealth.hhs.gov). The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH) partners with federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial groups by calling for a renewed commitment to eliminate health disparities among minority groups and achieve health equity. The 2016 National Minority Health Month campaign theme is Accelerating Health Equity for the Nation.

Linking Racism and Discrimination to Health Risks

Research studies have shown that racism and discrimination can affect mental and physical health in individuals and lead to health disparities of racial, ethnic, and other minority groups. Discrimination is a source of stress for anyone, but can especially be profound among racial, ethnic, and other minorities. Like other social determinants of health, racism and discrimination affects stress mechanisms. Those mechanisms can cause anxiety or other mental and physical health effects, and lead to poor coping strategies that increase health risks.

Several studies suggest a link between racial discrimination and mental health impairments. 1,2,3,4 The distress of racism and discriminations is often mistreated through unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drug use, as well as maintaining an unhealthy diet. This unhealthy coping, in turn, can lead to overall physical health inequities among racial, ethnic, and other minorities.

Statistics show that racial minorities experience higher rates of mortality; earlier onset of disease; greater severity and progression of disease; and higher levels of comorbidity and impairment.5 Evidence has linked self-reported racism to higher risk factors for hypertension6,7 and coronary heart disease.8

Organizations across the nation are invited to join efforts to raise awareness of the health disparities that continue to affect racial and ethnic minorities, and how we are working together to accelerate health equity.


1 Jackson JS, Brown TN, Williams DR, Torres M, Sellers SL, Brown K. Racism and the physical and mental health status of African-Americans: a thirteen year national panel study. Ethn Dis. 1996;6(1-2):132-147.

2 Kessler RC, Mickelson KD, Williams DR. The prevalence, distribution, and mental health correlates of perceived discrimination in the United States. J Health Soc Behav. 1999;40:208-230.

3 Sanders-Thompson V. Perceived experiences of racism as stressful life events. Community Ment Health J. 1996;32(3):223-233.

4 Sellers RM, Caldwell CH, Schmeelk-Cone KH, Zimmerman MA. Racial identity, racial discrimination, perceived stress, and psychological distress among African-American young adults. J Health Soc Behav. 2003;43:302-317.

5 Williams DR, Mohammed SA. Racism and health I: pathways and scientific evidence. Am Behav Sci. 2013;57(8):1152-1173.

6 Peters RM. Racism and hypertension among African-Americans. West J Nurs Res. 2004;26(6):612-631.

7 Krieger N, Sidney S. Racial discrimination and blood pressure: the CARDIA study of young black and white adults. Am J Public Health. 1996;86(10):1370-1378.

8 Lewis TT, Everson-Rose SA, Powell LH, et al. Chronic exposure to everyday discrimination and coronary artery calcification in African-American women: the SWAN heart study. Psychosom Med. 2006;68(3):362-368.