February 1, 2012

Association between Perceived Racism and Physiological Stress Indices in Native Hawaiians

Joseph Keawe‘aimoku Kaholokula, Andrew Grandinetti,  Stefan Keller, Andrea H. Nacapoy, Te Kani Kingi, and Marjorie K. Mau

Journal of Behavioral Medicine

The association between racism and the physical health of native U.S. populations has yet to be examined  despite their high risk for stress-related disorders and a history of discrimination toward them. We examined the correlation between perceived racism and the two physiological  stress indices of cortisol level and blood pressure in  146 adult Native Hawaiians. Attributed and felt racism  were assessed with a 10-item shortened version of the  Oppression Questionnaire. Height, weight, blood pressure,  and salivary cortisol samples (AM and PM) were collected  and analyzed along with information on Hawaiian ancestry, BMI, age, sex, marital status, education level, general  psychological stress, and ethnic identity. The results indicated  that Native Hawaiians reporting more attributed  racism had significantly (P\.05) lower average cortisol  levels than those reporting less attributed racism, after  adjusting for socio-demographic, biological, and psychosocial  confounders. Native Hawaiians reporting more felt  racism had a significantly higher systolic blood pressure  than those reporting less, but this association was not significant  after adjusting for the aforementioned confounders.  Racism appears to be a chronic stressor that can ‘‘get under  the skin’’ of Native Hawaiians by affecting their physical  health and risk for stress-related  diseases, possibly, through  mechanisms of cortisol dysregulation.

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