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Research Round-Up: Impact of Discrimination on Health, Innovative Teaching Methods of Minority Faculty and Racial Disparities in Care For HIV Patients

Racial Discrimination Key Factor to Health Disparities in African Americans

Racial discrimination may be an important reason why Blacks suffer from higher rates of cardiovascular disorders, diabetes and obesity, according to University of California, Los Angeles researchers.

A new study to be published in the Annual Review of Psychology suggests that experience or possibility of racial discrimination can cause an increase in blood pressure and heart rate.

“This is not to say that every African-American has poor health,” says Dr. Vickie M. Mays, the report’s lead author. “However, African-Americans — as a group of people — have not been able to gain as much ground as other ethnic groups. That’s when you need to worry and look at missing factors that can explain these health disparities.”

Mays says that when a person experiences discrimination, the body develops a response in which it recognizes the discrimination as something that is bad and should be defended against. It is almost similar to the response a person’s body mounts when it faces life-threatening danger.

Mays says the reaction can eventually cause the body to become strained and overworked if the person experiences discrimination on a regular basis. Many of the chemicals associated with the reaction can damage bodily systems tied to disease and obesity, says the report.

“As we deal with skyrocketing rates of obesity and rising rates of diabetes in African-Americans and other racial and ethnic minority groups, we need to think about the impact of race-based discrimination and how they respond to that stress,” she says. “It may not be just a matter of telling a person to eat better or exercise. We may need to take a look at the person’s environment and the race-based discrimination that that person is experiencing.” 

Minority Faculty Use More Innovative Teaching Methods

Faculty of color use more interesting ways of teaching at undergraduate institutions than their White peers, according to a study conducted by the University of Iowa.

The study, “The Contribution of Faculty of Color to Undergraduate Education,” used data from a 2003 survey of 13,499 faculty at 134 predominantly White colleges and universities.

Dr. Paul D. Umbach, an assistant professor of higher education and the study’s author, says faculty of color use more innovative techniques and interact more frequently with students than their White counterparts.

“An increased diversity among faculty also leads to an increased use of effective educational practices,” he says.

Some of the teaching techniques he measured included the percentage of time faculty spent with students, whether advising them about career plans or discussing ideas from readings.

Umbach also measured techniques that actively engage students and allow them to work together. Faculty members were measured on the frequency with which they utilized diversity — by dividing the class into diverse groups, for example — as well as by helping students to apply theories or concepts in discussions.

However, Umbach says the representation of minorities in the faculty ranks continues to be quite small. In fact, for this study, the institutions considered the most diverse only had 13 percent minority faculty.

“While small in numbers, the impact that these faculty have on undergraduate education appears to be significant,” he says. “The perspectives that faculty of color offer is critical to the success colleges and universities [bring] to prepare students to live in an increasingly pluralistic society,” he says.

HIV-Infected Population With No Outpatient Care Are Mostly Minorities

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have determined that parts of the HIV-infected population who have little to no consistent outpatient medical care are overwhelmingly minorities, the poor and substance abusers.

The research team, led by Dr. William Cunningham, tracked HIV-infected people who were not receiving regular care. That segment of the HIV-infected population often winds up in the emergency room.

“As we expected, they are much less likely to get routine outpatient care but more likely to get acute care, when they are at their sickest,” says Cunningham. “This is just the group that needs to get grassroots outreach service.”

Researchers compared characteristics of HIV-infected adults from two samples: 1,286 people from the 2001-2002 Targeted HIV Outreach and Intervention Initiative and 2,267 who were interviewed in 1998 for the HIV Costs and Services Utilization Study.

The study, to be published in the journal Medical Care, says 59 percent of patients in the Outreach group were Black, compared with 32 percent of HIV-infected people who were receiving routine care and were tracked by HCSUS. Also, 20 percent of those from the Outreach sites were Hispanic, versus 16 percent from the HCSUS sample. Fully 75 percent of the Outreach patents had annual incomes of $10,000 or less, compared with 45 percent in the HCSUS group. Nearly 60 percent were unemployed, homeless, had no insurance or used illegal drugs, compared with less than half in the HCSUS study.

Cunningham says that because of this study, health care providers will know better what kind of services to tailor to these patients.

“They’re not the same kind of services that are important to more mainstream patients,” he says.

— Diverse staff reports

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