A recent study from the Australian National University (ANU) has found discrimination is directly linked to poorer health outcomes in Indigenous Australians.

The university analysed two years’ worth of data from over 8,000 Indigenous Australians outlining experiences of racism and its direct effect on health outcomes, regardless of the person’s age, gender or where they live.

“These results highlight the breadth and extent of just how bad racism is for our mob’s wellbeing,” said ANU Associate Professor Raymond Lovett.

“Across the board, we found consistent links between racism and poor mental health, physical health and cultural wellbeing.”

Researchers found that discrimination was linked to all negative outcomes examined, including pain, life satisfaction, psychological distress, anxiety, depression, heart disease, blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, among others.

“Experiencing discrimination is linked to negative outcomes ranging from low happiness to heart disease,” A/Professor Lovett said.

Lead author of the study, Dr Katherine Thurber said the “negative outcomes were increasingly common as the extent of discrimination increased”.

“Discrimination experiences were pervasive, with almost six in 10 participants in the study reporting having experienced discrimination in their everyday life,” Dr Thurber said.

Forty per cent of participants felt they were treated with less respect than others, whilst one in six reported they were unfairly troubled by police.

“Any experience of unfair police treatment can have extreme consequences for life opportunities,” said study co-author, ANU PhD candidate and Research Associate, Roxanne Jones.

The study also found younger, female, and remote participants were more negatively affected by discrimination.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been saying for a very long time that racism is bad for health,” A/Professor Lovett said.

“Now we have robust data to back up those experiences.”

Dr Thurber said for the first time there is now national evidence for First Nations people on the correlation between discrimination and broad-based negative health consequences.

“The pervasiveness of discrimination, coupled with its strong and far-ranging links to wellbeing means that there is vast potential to improve health by eliminating discrimination,” she said.

However, there are drawbacks to the research, as racism is underreported and the study doesn’t account for sufferers of systemic and structural racism.

“Unfortunately, these results will be [of] no surprise to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the nation but we hope the findings can be used to advocate for support for program and policy approaches to eliminate racism,” said co-author Professor Tom Calma AO. 

Lowitja Institute chief executive Dr Janine Mohammed also said these findings provide “undeniable evidence” that racism is linked to health outcomes. 

“[These findings] clearly demonstrate the need to address racism if we are serious about improving our health and closing gaps.”

By Aaron Bloch