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Racism speeds up aging in African-American men

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Racism's bad effects seem to reach the cellular level, or so it seems per the latest study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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.

The Black-White Implicit Association Test is a way to detect racism even in non-racists, because the test is powerful enough to gauge a participant's conscious attitudes and beliefs about race groups, even if they aren't racist.

Dr. David H. Chae, UMD's School of Public Health assistant professor of epidemiology, said, "We examined a biomarker of systemic aging, known as leukocyte telomere length. 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."

Telomeres, or leukocyte telomeres, are repetitive sequences of DNA capping the ends of chromosomes, which shorten progressively over time - at a rate of approximately 50-100 base pairs annually. Shorter telomeres have been associated with life-shortening conditions such as heart disease, dementia, and diabetes, and is therefore associated with increased likelihood of premature death.

Dr. Chae also noted that telomere length is most likely 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,"

The African-American men in the study that were aged between 30 and 50 were shown to have lost telomere length equivalent to between 1.4 and 2.8 years of life. And even after adjusting the parameters to factor in the participants' chronological age, health-related characteristics, and socioeconomic components, it was still apparent that those with the shortest telomeres experience high racial discrimination and anti-Black bias.

Dr. Chae explained that, "African American men who have more positive views of their racial group may be buffered from the negative impact of racial discrimination. In contrast, those who have internalized an anti-Black bias may be less able to cope with racist experiences, which may result in greater stress and shorter telomeres."

In the study, it emerged that the most commonly reported incident was racial discrimination by police authorities, followed by discrimination on the job. Furthermore, African-American men claim to experience other inconveniences brought on by racism, and being treated with less courtesy and respect.

"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," Dr. 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."

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