discrimination, study, aging, racism

Study: Discrimination Ages People Faster, Authors Call For More Research

Discrimination may speed up the biological processes of aging, according to a new study led by researchers at New York University.

According to a new study published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity-Health, discrimination is a factor in increased biological aging. The study, which was led by researchers from New York University (NYU), establishes that all forms of discrimination have the effect of increasing susceptibility to health issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression. 

According to the press release from NYU, researchers indicated that being exposed to various forms of discrimination, which they categorized as everyday discrimination, major discrimination, and workplace discrimination, had a negative effect on biological aging. According to Adolfo Cuevas, an assistant professor in the Department of Social Health Sciences at New York University’s School of Global Public Health, as well as the study’s senior author, “Experiencing discrimination appears to hasten the process of aging, which may be contributing to disease and early mortality and fueling health disparities. While health behaviors partly explain these disparities, it’s likely that a range of processes are at play connecting psycho-social stressors to biological aging.”

Cuevas also added, “These findings underscore the importance of addressing all forms of discrimination to support healthy aging and promote health equity.”

This link between discrimination and biological aging also varied by race, white people were also susceptible to aging as a result of discrimination against them, although they received less discrimination, which the researchers hypothesized could be due to the shock coupled with a lack of strategies to cope with discrimination. It should be noted that data on other racial groups or ethnicities were not made available during the study. 

According to the study’s abstract, “Reports of discrimination were more strongly associated with accelerated biological aging among White as compared with Black participants, although Black participants reported more discrimination overall and tended to exhibit older biological age and faster biological aging. Findings support the hypothesis that experiences of interpersonal discrimination contribute to accelerated biological aging and suggest that structural and individual-level interventions to reduce discrimination and promote adaptive coping have potential to support healthy aging and build health equity.”

The introduction continues the focus on Black Americans, while also concluding that this study cannot determine if discrimination is a direct cause of poor health outcomes, it is at least an underlying factor. “The biological weathering hypothesis posits that the persistent exposure to discrimination and other psychosocial stressors accelerate the aging process, particularly among Black Americans, elevating their susceptibility to disease and premature mortality. This hypothesis finds strong support in empirical data revealing that aging-related diseases manifest at younger ages for Black Americans, Black-white disparities intensify with advancing age, and are conspicuously present across a wide spectrum of age-related health conditions. While strides have been taken in elucidating how discrimination heightens disease risk, our comprehension of the underlying biological mechanisms remains incomplete.”

In its conclusion, the study argues for more research regarding what exactly leads discrimination to link with biological aging as well as potential ways to prevent the phenomenon and to investigate more ways that discrimination affects people’s lives.

“The findings of this study shed light on a potential mechanism underlying the relationship between discrimination exposure and disease. To the best of our knowledge, this study is one of the first to examine multiple forms of discrimination while considering multiple epigenetic clocks within a large community-based cohort of adults. Our results demonstrate that everyday and major discrimination are associated with accelerated biological aging.”

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