Study Shows Wide-Ranging Health Impacts of Discrimination

by Vins
Published: Updated:

If your stress levels are unusually high you may want to look into a frequently overlooked cause—discrimination. In March 2016, Kenrya Rankin of Colorlines reported on a new study from the American Psychological Association (APA) that says the effects of discrimination can increase stress levels and affect the overall health of an individual. This study found that day-to-day micro-aggressions target people of color (Blacks, Asians, American Indians, Alaska Natives and Hispanics) and even those who are homosexual, women, and the millennial generation.

People of color, women, millennials, and LGBT individuals report having experienced daily discriminatory micro-aggressions and overall abuse. As defined in the APA study, micro-aggressions include “being treated with less courtesy or respect, receiving poorer service than others, and being threatened or harassed.” Aggressions in the workplace are especially common.

These seemingly slight aggressions have huge impacts on an individual’s stress levels. For example, the stress caused by discrimination is reported to impact the emotional, mental, and physical well being of most individuals affected. Unhealthy eating habits are subsequently encouraged. The study found that, “Two in five adults (39 percent) report overeating or eating unhealthy foods in the past month due to stress, compared to 33 percent in 2014” (APA). In relation to this, some adults have also admitted skipping meals. These issues can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, and other health issues such as hypertension or obesity.

Many adults have also reported having felt depressed, sad, and anxious. These aspects of stress consequently disrupt sleep patterns, leaving individuals awake at night and unable to sleep. “While adults report sleeping an average of 6.7 hours per night, just 33 percent report their sleep quality as good, which is down from 37 percent in 2014.”

This stress also affects emotional well being of individuals and the people around them, “Almost half of adults who have a spouse or partner (47 percent) report losing patience with or yelling at them in the past month when they were feeling stressed.” Overall, stress due to discriminatory micro-aggressions impact the physical, emotional, and mental health of those affected.

The APA study did not receive corporate news coverage, though in the past outlets such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have addressed the topic. An editorial in the New York Times from 1996, titled “Death by Discrimination,” addressed the health impacts of discrimination targeting blacks, but failed to mention the effects of discrimination toward other groups. A 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times focused similarly on black men, without addressing other groups affected by discrimination. While both articles brought light to the central issue of stress by discrimination, they overlooked important health complications and failed to recognize different demographics such as women, other people of color, youth and LGBT individuals.

Source: Kenrya Rankin, “Feeling Stressed Out? Discrimination May Be to Blame,” Colorlines, March 11, 2016,

Student Researcher: Mikaela Villanueva (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)