Research explores how systemic racism impacts adverse health outcomes

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A new report examines ways in which researchers contribute to differences in health outcomes across racial groups.  

The paper, published in The Annals of Family Medicine, and led by Elle Lett, MBiostat, MA, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, outlines pitfalls in the conceptualization, contextualization, and operationalization of race in quantitative population health research. Race should not be used as a measure of biologic difference, but rather as a proxy for exposure to systemic racism, the researchers wrote.  

The paper explained how studies usually do not explicitly connect observed differences in health outcomes across racial groups – which is the most commonly reported findings in health disparities research - to mechanisms of systemic racism.

The authors provided recommendations on how researchers can more appropriately engage in quantitative scientific inquiry to better understand the impact of racism on adverse health outcomes. They shared general principles that touch upon theoretical frameworks, representation and inclusivity, and collaboration and redistribution. The report also included recommendations for studies with new data collection as well as studies using existing secondary data.

These recommendations include applying appropriate theoretical frameworks that accurately explain how social-structural factors might interact with a disease to produce results most important for achieving health equity; drawing upon Black, Indigenous, Latine and other community consults as experts to inform public health research; measuring elements of racism in research in both new and secondary datasets; and elevating Black, Latine and Indigenous scholars to leadership positions to conduct racial health equity research.