Understanding how discrimination can affect health

David R. Williams, Jourdyn A. Lawrence, Brigette A. Davis, Cecilia Vu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

374 Scopus citations


Background: To provide an overview of the empirical research linking self-reports of racial discrimination to health status and health service utilization. Methods: A review of literature reviews and meta-analyses published from January 2013 to 2019 was conducted using PubMed, PsycINFO, Sociological Abstracts, and Web of Science. Articles were considered for inclusion using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) framework. Results: Twenty-nine studies met the criteria for review. Both domestic and international studies find that experiences of discrimination reported by adults are adversely related to mental health and indicators of physical health, including preclinical indicators of disease, health behaviors, utilization of care, and adherence to medical regimens. Emerging evidence also suggests that discrimination can affect the health of children and adolescents and that at least some of its adverse effects may be ameliorated by the presence of psychosocial resources. Conclusions: Increasing evidence indicates that racial discrimination is an emerging risk factor for disease and a contributor to racial disparities in health. Attention is needed to strengthen research gaps and to advance our understanding of the optimal interventions that can reduce the negative effects of discrimination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1374-1388
Number of pages15
JournalHealth services research
Issue numberS2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Authors. Health Services Research published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of Health Research and Educational Trust


  • discrimination
  • health
  • health disparities
  • mental health
  • racism


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