Surprising Ways Race Impacts Your Health

There are many risk factors that influence whether or not you’ll develop a serious health condition in your lifetime. Some of these, like diet and activity level, you can control. Others, like race, you can’t.

In fact, race is a major predictor of elevated risk when it comes to your health. Some racial groups are more likely to develop certain diseases than others. Some face inequality in health care and insurance coverage. Here are all the surprising ways your race likely affects your health.

Race, stress, and disease

Friends making pizza

Different races are pre-disposed to different diseases. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Chronic stress increases your risk of developing and dying from multiple diseases. Research suggests the different stressors racial groups face on a daily basis may contribute to higher rates of disease among these individuals.

Socioeconomic and environmental stressors, for example, put many people at risk for high blood pressure and other dangerous health conditions.

Socioeconomic status and health

road sign displaying 'Rich and Poor'

The stressors of being poor can impact you from childhood to adulthood. | iStock.com

In many cases, race affects your likelihood of getting a quality education, maintaining a sustainable income, and more. Past research has shown a connection between socioeconomic status and race. This could also support observations that race impacts rates of disease and other poor health outcomes.

Children who grow up in poverty without high school or post-secondary education are more likely to experience health problems later on in life due to a number of environmental and other factors.

High blood pressure and heart disease risk

Stethoscope sitting on an red ECG printout

Your race effects your likelihood of developing heart disease. | iStock.com/RTimages

Your race also predicts whether or not you’re more likely to develop heart disease or one of its many other risk factors, such as obesity or type 2 diabetes.

You’re more likely to develop high blood pressure and/or heart disease if you’re non-Hispanic black, for example. However, if you’re Hispanic, you’re actually less likely to die of heart disease than non-Hispanic whites.

Your race and your weight

close-up of a man struggling to button his pants

All races own a share of the obesity epidemic. | iStock.com

Hispanic and non-Hispanic black populations experience higher rates of obesity than non-Hispanic whites. This is the case for both childhood and adult obesity. Both genetic and socioeconomic factors could play a role in these disparities.

Long-term overweight and obesity are associated with a number of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and even cancer.

The likelihood you’ll receive pain medications in the ER

Female doctor's hands putting on blue sterilized surgical gloves

Doctors can also be racist. | iStock.com/Bojan89

Health care providers should treat every patient equally, regardless of race or any other differentiating factor. However, many patients have reported that they’ve faced discrimination in hospital settings to the point of not receiving the adequate care they needed.

Public health researchers continue to look into the negative health effects of racial discrimination, though it’s evident poorer health outcomes await those who don’t get proper care.

Your health insurance coverage

Doctor fees

Not everyone has adequate health coverage. | iStock.com/PhotoBylove

Your race also might affect the likelihood you’ll receive adequate health care. A higher percentage of non-Hispanic white Americans have health insurance coverage than any other race, which may contribute to lower rates of many health issues and conditions among this population.

Experts believe socioeconomic status plays a significant role in these specific disparities, since lower-income households are less likely to receive employer-provided coverage.

Genetic differences and disease by race

dna strand

Certain genetic mutations are more common amongst different races. | iStock.com/cosmin4000

The connections between genetic differences among racial groups and disease is complicated. However, data does suggest that certain diseases may be more common among certain groups of people based on their genetic makeup rather than their skin color.

Sickle cell disease, for example, is found more often in individuals of African descent. Non-Hispanic white populations are more susceptible to cystic fibrosis because the gene originally mutated among European populations.

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