Intended for healthcare professionals


Racism and health

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 11 January 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:65

Antiracism is an important health issue

  1. Kwame McKenzie, senior lecturer in transcultural psychiatry (
  1. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Royal Free and University College Medical School, London NW3 2PF

    Discussion of racial discrimination in medicine has concerned mainly recruitment and career development. 1 2 This has overshadowed a growing literature showing an association between racism, morbidity and mortality.37 Racism may be aetiologically important in the development of illness.

    Racism stems from the belief that people should be treated differently because of a few phenotypic features. Racism can manifest as individual or group acts and attitudes or institutionalised processes that lead to disparities. Racism is common: in one national survey in the United Kingdom, 25-40% of participants said they would discriminate against ethnic minorities; an estimated 282 000 UK crimes were racially motivated in 1999; and a third of people from ethnic minorities constrain their lives through fear of racism. 8 9 Disparities between ethnic minority and majority groups in housing, education, arrests, and court sentencing are believed to be due to racism, not simply to economic fources. 8 9

    Cross sectional studies in the United States report associations between perceived racial discrimination and hypertension, birth weight, self related …

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