A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine this week found that aging was accelerated at the cellular level in African-American men who reported experiencing racial discrimination and who internalized anti-black attitudes.
Although it is well-known that African-Americans have a shorter life span than whites, researchers from the University of Maryland are believed to be the first to link biological aging to racism-related factors, according to UMD Right Now.
“We examined a biomarker of systemic aging, known as leukocyte telomere length,” UMD’s School of Public Health assistant professor of epidemiology Dr. David H. Chae explained. “We found that the African American men who experienced greater racial discrimination and who displayed a stronger bias against their own racial group had the shortest telomeres of those studied.”
Shorter telomere length has been associated with premature death and greater risk for diseases like diabetes, dementia, stroke and heart disease.
“Telomere length may be a better indicator of biological age, which can give us insight into variations in the cumulative ‘wear and tear’ of the organism net of chronological age,” Chae noted.
Researchers found that African-American men reporting high levels of racial discrimination and anti-black attitudes had a telomere length 140 base pairs shorter than average, which could amount to 1.4 to 2.8 chronological years.
The study examined 92 African American men between the ages of 30 and 50. They were asked about their experiences in different social situations and the Black-White Implicit Association Test was used to measure racial bias.
“Stop-and-frisk policies, and other forms of criminal profiling such as ‘driving or shopping while black’ are inherently stressful and have a real impact on the health of African Americans,” Chae said. “Despite the limitations of our study, we contribute to a growing body of research showing that social toxins disproportionately impacting African American men are harmful to health.”
“Our findings suggest that racism literally makes people old.”