People Who Experience Discrimination at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Charlie Plain | May 3, 2017
Kara Whitaker smiling
Post-doctoral fellow Kara Whitaker

Discrimination can have a negative impact on health in a number of ways. For example, research shows that individuals who experience higher levels of discrimination are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those who don’t experience discrimination. To further explore the health effects, the School of Public Health studied the association between discrimination and type 2 diabetes.

The study’s results were recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

“Cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes often go hand in hand, yet no one has examined whether or not higher levels of discrimination were associated with diabetes risk,” says lead author and post-doctoral fellow Kara Whitaker.

“Unfortunately acts of discrimination are still commonplace in today’s society and in some contexts, there has even been in increase in discriminatory events. It’s important for us to develop a better understanding of the long term health consequences of discrimination. Once we can clearly illustrate the detrimental health effects of discrimination, hopefully that will mobilize policy makers to seek out interventions to promote societal level change to reduce discrimination,” says Whitaker.

Whitaker and her colleagues examined if major experiences of discrimination and everyday discrimination (more subtle forms of day-to-day unfair treatment) were associated with the development of type 2 diabetes.

Their findings showed that individuals who reported two or more major experiences of discrimination — such as being treated unfairly by the police — had a 34 percent increased risk of developing diabetes over nine years of follow-up, compared to those who reported no major experiences of discrimination.

The results, however, did not show an association between everyday experiences of discrimination, such as being treated with less respect than other people, with the development of diabetes.

The researchers are unable to explain why major experiences of discrimination are associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes while minor experiences of discrimination are not, but they do point out that it may be easier to remember major forms of discrimination than it is to recall everyday discrimination.

Whitaker says the results have some immediate implications for clinicians: “It may be beneficial for clinicians to ask patients about their experiences with discrimination as an additional method to identify individuals who may be at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease.”

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