How Race Can Affect Your Health
Gathering statistics and research on race and ethnicity makes some people feel uncomfortable. But we need data to identify and address health differences between population groups. What better place is there to investigate disparities in health than Toronto – one of the most diverse cities in the world and home to over a million people from racialized groups.
Toronto Public Health (TPH) released a report last fall – Racialization and Health Inequities in Toronto (PDF) – highlighting the gaps in health between racialized and non-racialized groups.
The analysis of available data shows members of racialized groups experience significant racial discrimination in Toronto and these experiences contribute to their poor mental health. Other studies have demonstrated that racial discrimination increases risks of mental health problems and disorders including psychosis, anxiety, post-traumatic disorder and depression. The psychological stress resulting from racial discrimination may precipitate poor mental health. Racial discrimination can also indirectly lead to poor mental health by creating or exacerbating social inequities such as access to education, employment, housing and other social resources.
Race-based social inequalities in Canada are a reality of life for so many individuals. Regardless of education level, members of racialized groups are more likely to be unemployed and underemployed, experience low income and poverty, and are less likely to hold managerial or professional jobs. It’s important to note that not all differences in health between population groups are inequitable, but these racial disparities are. They are unfair and unjust, being rooted in social inequities. Therefore, they are unnecessary and avoidable.
Almost half of Toronto’s population belongs to racialized groups. The identified differences in health outcomes between racialized and non-racialized groups in Toronto raise serious concerns from an equity perspective. And the problem goes beyond the health sector. Health equity is about fairness, justice and ensuring equal opportunity for health care for all. This report is an urgent call to address systemic social disparities putting racialized groups at increased risk for poor health.
Canadian evidence on racial disparities in health is at the early stage and limited. While there have been international studies from the U.S. to the U.K. on racialization and health, we need local data to have a greater impact – from access to services to quality of care. Some may be suspicious when personal data is being collected, especially related to race, but when we explain that data will not be misused but is critical to identify disparities and ultimately to inform program, policies and services, there is a willingness to be part of the process.