Pediatricians Detail How Racism Is Hurting Children’s Health

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Not only is a pediatric group of about 67,000 pediatricians acknowledging the effects of racism on children’s health, it’s recommending steps doctors can take to help combat it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released its policy statement, “Racism and Its Impact on Child and Adolescent Health,” July 29.

Dr. Maria Trent, lead author of the statement, said a combination of strategies is needed “to begin untangling the thread of racism throughout the fabric of our society, and to improve the health of all children.”

Doctor checks girl's heart
A doctor is listening to her patient’s heartbeat. (Photo: Getty)

“While progress has been made toward racial equality, the impact of racism on communities of color is wide-reaching, systemic and complex,” Trent said.

Researchers cited work out of the Brookings Institution that shows children in Black, Hispanic, and American Indian communities “continue to face higher risks of parental unemployment and to reside in families with significantly lower household net wealth relative to white children in the United States.”

That posed barriers to equal opportunities and services “that optimize health and vocational outcomes,” according to the Institute.

Dr. Jacqueline Dougé said when children experience chronic stress, it impacts their health and development and can create long-term health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and depression.

Addressing stress factors require doctors to work with families, Dougé said.

“It’s important, as child health professionals, that we examine our own biases and work with families to gain their trust and confidence,” she said. “We must be prepared to counsel families of all races on the effects of exposure to racism. 

“That includes talking with victims, bystanders and perpetrators about managing their circumstances and health.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended doctors prioritize culturally competent care with families and staff members, advocate for implicit bias training and tap community leaders to create safe playgrounds and healthy food markets.

The group also encouraged pediatricians to advocate for social justice policies and collaborate with police and first responders to trade expertise on how differences in culture, gender and background affect mental health and development.

It cited the federal Food Stamp program developed in the 1930s and revived in the 1960s as a positive program, which led to higher birth weights in babies whose mothers were at risk of nutritional deficiencies.

“When provided with food stamps three months prior to giving birth, the pregnant women gave birth with babies who had better odds of surviving, as a result,” pediatricians said in a press release about the policy statement. “Similarly, expansion of child health insurance improved health care access for children, with significant gains for black and Hispanic children.”

Kyle Yasud, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said work to address inequity is “incredibly important for the AAP, for pediatricians, and for children, and it will remain a priority for our organization.”

“As a pediatrician, I know that when we help children grow up healthy and with equal access to opportunities, we improve all of society,” he said.

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