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Age Discrimination Worse Than Sexism or Racism

People who believe they are a victim of age or weight discrimination are linked to worse health than those older adults who are the targets of racism and sexism, according to a new study.

The findings, by researchers from the Florida State University College of Medicine, were published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

“Our previous research showed that perceived discrimination based on body weight was associated with risk of obesity. We wanted to see whether this association extended to other health indicators and types of discrimination,” said lead author Angelina Sutin, assistant professor of behavioral sciences and social medicine.

The investigators found that older adults who perceived discrimination based on age, weight, disability or another aspect of physical appearance had significantly lower physical and emotional health than those who did not report such discrimination. They also showed greater declines in health.

On the other hand, perceived discrimination based on characteristics such as race, sex, ancestry and sexual orientation were largely unrelated to declines in physical and emotional health.

The researchers analyzed a sample of more than 6,000 adults who took part in the Health and Retirement Study. Participants reported on their physical, emotional and cognitive health in 2006 and 2010. They also reported their perceptions of discrimination.

Loneliness was the most widespread health consequence of discrimination among older adults. Previous studies have shown that the effects of chronic loneliness are significant: increased risk for unhealthy behaviors, sleep disturbances, risk of heart disease and suicide.

 “Humans have a strong need to belong, and people often feel distressed when they do not have their desired social relationships,” Sutin said. “Our research suggests that perceiving a hostile society is associated with pervasive feelings of loneliness. An individual may interpret discrimination as an indication that they do not fit in the society in which they live.”

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