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Racism as a public health priority: understanding links with smoking

25 January 2018
Racism as a public health priority: understanding links with smoking

Researchers at King’s are hoping that new research may help public health organisations to address the impact of discrimination and disadvantage on public health.

They found that adolescents who have experienced some form of racism between the ages of 11 and 23 are more likely to take up smoking than those who have not.

An important point here is that racism affects both physical and mental health outcomes. Addressing racism is an important public health priority for young people.

– Professor Seeromanie Harding, senior author and Principal Investigator of the DASH study

The study analysed questionnaire and interview data from the Determinants of young Adult Social well-being and Health (DASH) study, one of the UK’s largest longitudinal studies of ethnically diverse young people.

The team discovered that the young people they studied were around 80 per cent more likely to have smoked if they also indicated that they had experienced some form of racism. The findings support theories from previous studies that have suggested racism can trigger a stress response that results in risky health behaviours, such as smoking.

Qualitative interviews undertaken as part of the study highlighted persistent exposure to racism from an early age and the positive impact of parental and religious support. This appeared to help participants find different coping strategies and nurture self-esteem.

Commenting on the findings, lead author, Dr Ursula Read, from the departments of Global Health & Social Medicine and Nutritional Sciences, said: ‘As well as analysing the DASH data, our study looked at the qualitative detail of participant experiences of racism, relationships and religion. The findings overall highlight the role of racism as an important social determinant of health.

‘This integrated analysis also supports theories that racism can trigger a stress response that could lead to smoking as a type of coping strategy. Public health organisations should consider carefully the impact of discrimination and disadvantage on these kinds of risky health behaviours.’

Professor Seeromanie Harding, Principal Investigator of the DASH study, said: ‘Despite recent decreases in smoking in the UK, the Office for National Statistics has said that 58 per cent of heavy smokers report having started smoking regularly before the age of 16.

‘Our findings have public health implications for improving community interventions and finding new ways to support and encourage people not to take up smoking at a young age. An important point here is that racism affects both physical and mental health outcomes. Addressing racism is an important public health priority for young people.’

To read the full story, visit the King’s website.

 

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