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Study: Racism May Accelerate Aging In African-American Men

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Accelerated aging and a greater likelihood of suffering from an age-related illness at a younger age are two consequences being linked to African-American men who have experienced high-levels of racism throughout their lives. (MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Accelerated aging and a greater likelihood of suffering from an age-related illness at a younger age are two consequences being linked to African-American men who have experienced high-levels of racism throughout their lives. (MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. (CBSDC) – Accelerated aging and a greater likelihood of suffering from an age-related illness at a younger age are two consequences being linked to African-American men who have experienced high-levels of racism throughout their lives.

A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that African-American men who reported high levels of racial discrimination, or who have internalized anti-black attitudes themselves, have an increased risk of premature death and chronic disease than white people.

Previous research has documented African-Americans’ shorter life expectancy and greater risk of chronic diseases, but this new study is the first to link racism-related experiences to accelerated aging at the biological, cellular level.

“We examined a biomarker of systemic aging, known as leukocyte telomere length,” Dr. David H. Chae, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and the study’s lead investigator, said in a statement.

Chae continued: “Shorter telomere length is associated with increased risk of premature death and chronic disease such as diabetes, dementia, stroke and heart disease. 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.”

The “telomeres” measured in the 92 African-American men were lost at a length equivalent to 1.4 and 2.8 years of life faster. The men also had an average of 140 base pairs shorter than the average of 50-100 lost each year.

The men surveyed were asked about their experiences with racial discrimination from the police, at work, and in daily scenarios in stores and restaurants. The men were also tested using “implicit association” exams that measure their own attitudes toward various racial groups.

“Our findings suggest that racism literally makes people old,” Chae said, citing the “social toxins” African American men experience as a result of stereotyping, police harassment, and disrespect in the workplace and society. ”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.”

Although Chae notes that further research is needed on the correlation, he indicates that there is a growing research field for how the stress of racism on African-Americans can be harmful to health.

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