Ongoing discrimination is increasing women’s blood pressure in the United States, putting them at risk for cardiovascular disease and compromised long-term health, according to new research. The study, recently published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine, says that persistent, daily discrimination elevate's women's blood pressure in the long term, regardless of race or ethnicity. Researchers used data from 2,180 self-identified Black, Chinese, Hispanic, Japanese, and white women over a period of 10 years for the study, and found that exposure to daily gender-based discrimination consistently increased blood pressure over time, even after taking additional health-based, behavioral, and demographic risk factors into account.
The Atlantic reports that “routine moments of disdain, distance, and disrespect,” have serious impact on women’s long-term health. Basically, ongoing discrimination is literally making women sick, and putting them at risk for compromised long-term health outcomes. The Atlantic further reports that daily discrimination is a reality for many people with marginalized or multiply-marginalized identities, and that these chronic, negative experiences have potentially dangerous health consequences. The Atlantic also notes that these persistent acts of discrimination may sometimes seem subtle, and are often dismissed by those who don’t experience them firsthand. But lead study author Danielle Beatty Moody, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland, told The Atlantic that daily discrimination is “like a thousand tiny cuts,” that add up over a person’s lifetime.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reports that, for this research, middle-aged women answered questions about their experiences with daily discrimination over the course of the study and underwent regular health checkups. The research team found that those women who reported experiencing discrimination ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ had higher blood pressure after a 10-year period than those who said that they rarely encountered it.
There is already a significant body of research linking ongoing racial discrimination to a multitude of physical and mental health problems, including sleep disturbances and increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, The Atlantic reports. For the current research, however, the effects of gender-based discrimination were studied, specifically. And unlike previous research, this study is the first to examine the impact of daily discrimination on participants’ health over time, shedding light on its long-term impact. The Atlantic further notes that while this study has many strengths, more research is needed to better understand the long-term health effects of daily discrimination on women of other age groups. That said, the long-term data collected for this study does successfully establish a causal link between discrimination and high blood pressure.
Beatty Moody told The Atlantic that this research shows that ongoing discrimination is a source of chronic stress that’s toxic to women’s health — and it’s harmful for anyone experiencing it for any reason. “We certainly know that discrimination is bad for your health … We’re beyond the point of that. We’re now trying to ask: For whom, how, and why,” Beatty Moody said.
AJC notes that, in the era of #MeToo, this study is timely reminder of the dangers that women and minorities face while navigating a culture still deeply mired in discrimination and prejudice. While the mental health effects of ongoing discrimination are known, the potential physical health consequences are also very real.