Front Epidemiol. 2023 Jun 22;3:1190407. doi: 10.3389/fepid.2023.1190407. eCollection 2023.


Structurally racist policies and practices of the past are likely to be a driving factor in current day differences in exposure to air pollution and may contribute to observed racial and ethnic disparities in adverse birth outcomes in the United States (U.S.). Non-Hispanic Black women in the U.S. experience poorer health outcomes during pregnancy and throughout the life course compared to non-Hispanic White women. This disparity holds even among non-Hispanic Black women with higher socioeconomic status. Reasons for this finding remain unclear, but long-term environmental exposure, either historical exposure or both historical and ongoing exposure, may contribute. Structural racism likely contributes to differences in social and environmental exposures by race in the U.S. context, and these differences can affect health and wellbeing across multiple generations. In this paper, we briefly review current knowledge and recommendations on the study of race and structural racism in environmental epidemiology, specifically focused on air pollution. We describe a conceptual framework and opportunities to use existing historical data from multiple sources to evaluate multi-generational influences of air pollution and structurally racist policies on birth and other relevant health outcomes. Increased analysis of this kind of data is critical for our understanding of structural racism’s impact on multiple factors, including environmental exposures and adverse health outcomes, and identifying how past policies can have enduring legacies in shaping health and well-being in the present day. The intended purpose of this manuscript is to provide an overview of the widespread reach of structural racism, its potential association with health disparities and a comprehensive approach in environmental health research that may be required to study and address these problems in the U.S. The collaborative and methodological approaches we highlight have the potential to identify modifiable factors that can lead to effective interventions for health equity.

PMID:38455927 | PMC:PMC10910959 | DOI:10.3389/fepid.2023.1190407