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Pediatrics. 2009 Nov;124 Suppl 3:S176-86. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-1100E.

Social inequality and racial discrimination: risk factors for health disparities in children of color.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics and Child Health, Howard University College of Medicine, 1840 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA.


A child's sense of control over life and health outcomes as well as perceptions of the world as fair, equal, and just are significantly influenced by his or her social experiences and environment. Unfortunately, the social environment for many children of color includes personal and family experiences of racial discrimination that foster perceptions of powerlessness, inequality, and injustice. In turn, these perceptions may influence child health outcomes and disparities by affecting biological functioning (eg, cardiovascular and immune function) and the quality of the parent-child relationship and promoting psychological distress (eg, self-efficacy, depression, anger) that can be associated with risk-taking and unhealthy behaviors. In this article we review existing theoretical models and empirical studies of the impact of racial discrimination on the health and development of children of color in the United States. On the basis of this literature, a conceptual model of exposure to racial discrimination as a chronic stressor and a risk factor for poor health outcomes and child health disparities is presented.

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