The impact of racial discrimination on the health of Australian Indigenous children aged 5-10 years: analysis of national longitudinal data.
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Background: A growing body of literature highlights that racial discrimination has negative impacts on child health, although most studies have been limited to an examination of direct forms of racism using cross-sectional data. We aim to provide further insights on the impact of early exposure to racism on child health using longitudinal data among Indigenous children in Australia and multiple indicators of racial discrimination. Methods: We used data on 1239 Indigenous children aged 5-10 years from Waves 1-6 (2008-2013) of Footprints in Time, a longitudinal study of Indigenous children across Australia. We examined associations between three dimensions of carer-reported racial discrimination (measuring the direct experiences of children and vicarious exposure by their primary carer and family) and a range of physical and mental health outcomes. Analysis was conducted using multivariate logistic regression within a multilevel framework. Results: Two-fifths (40%) of primary carers, 45% of families and 14% of Indigenous children aged 5-10 years were reported to have experienced racial discrimination at some point in time, with 28-40% of these experiencing it persistently (reported at multiple time points). Primary carer and child experiences of racial discrimination were each associated with poor child mental health status (high risk of clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties), sleep difficulties, obesity and asthma, but not with child general health or injury. Children exposed to persistent vicarious racial discrimination were more likely to have sleep difficulties and asthma in multivariate models than those with a time-limited exposure. Conclusions: The findings indicate that direct and persistent vicarious racial discrimination are detrimental to the physical and mental health of Indigenous children in Australia, and suggest that prolonged and more frequent exposure to racial discrimination that starts in the early lifecourse can impact on multiple domains of health in later life. Tackling and reducing racism should be an integral part of policy and intervention aimed at improving the health of Australian Indigenous children and thereby reducing health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.
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