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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.

American Academy of Pediatrics
Warns of the Negative Impact of Racism
on Children's Health

“Racism has a profound impact on children’s health.” With this statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced its policy statement—Racism and Its Impact on Child and Adolescent Health—in July, and called on pediatricians to act to reduce the impact of racism on children and teens.

“While progress has been made toward racial equality, the impact of racism on communities of color is wide-reaching, systemic and complex,” said Maria Trent, MD, MPH, FAAP, FSAHM, lead author of the policy statement. “A combination of strategies will be needed to begin untangling the thread of racism throughout the fabric of our society, and to improve the health of all children.”

According to the AAP, a growing body of research finds that racism harms children’s mental and physical health. For example, research has found racism to impact specific health measures, such as pre-term birth, low birth weight and mental health; and children experience the effects of racism through limited access to resources and economic opportunity, and how their rights are enforced or exercised.

Chronic stress is another outcome of racism, the policy statement notes. While children and teens who are targets of racism are impacted the most, bystanders are also harmed. Studies have found that young adults who were bystanders to racism experience profound physiological and psychological effects. Such chronic stress, has a profound impact on children’s health. It floods the children with stress hormones such as cortisol that, after prolonged exposure, leads to inflammatory reactions. This harms children’s health in the short-term, but also creates long-term health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and depression.

Racism as a Core Determinant of Child Health

In its policy statement, the AAP notes that: “Racism is a core social determinant of health that is a driver of health inequities. The World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age.” These determinants are influenced by economic, political, and social factors linked to health inequities (avoidable inequalities in health between groups of people within populations and between countries). These health inequities are not the result of individual behavior choices or genetic predisposition but are caused by economic, political, and social conditions, including racism.

The Role of Pediatricians

The AAP believes pediatricians share a responsibility in helping to improve the conditions where children live, learn and play—by listening to families, creating culturally safe medical homes, and advocating within their communities. In a series of specific recommendations in its policy statement, the AAP calls on pediatricians “to create welcoming, culturally competent medical practices, to advocate for policies that advance social justice, and to engage leaders in their communities to reduce health disparities.”