Exposure to police-related deaths and physiological stress among urban black youth

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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2020 Sep 24;125:104884. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2020.104884. Online ahead of print.


BACKGROUND: Emerging evidence indicates that exposure to police-related deaths is associated with negative health and wellbeing outcomes among black people. Yet, no study to date has directly examined the biological consequences of exposure to police-related deaths for urban black youth.

METHODS AND FINDINGS: We employ unique data from the 2014-16 Adolescent Health and Development in Context (AHDC) study – a representative sample of youth ages 11 to 17 residing in the Columbus, OH area. A subsample of participants contributed nightly saliva samples for cortisol for up to six days, providing an opportunity to link recent exposures to police-related deaths within the residential county to physiological stress outcomes during the study period (N = 585). We examine the effect of exposure to a recent police-related death in the same county on the physiological stress (nightly cortisol) levels of black youth. We find evidence of elevated average levels of nightly cortisol (by 46%) for black boys exposed to a police-related death of a black victim in the 30 days prior to the subject’s cortisol collection. We find no evidence of police-related death effects on the physiological stress levels of black girls or white youth.

CONCLUSIONS: These analyses indicate that police-related deaths influence the biological functioning of black boys, with potential negative consequences for health. We consider the implications of exposure to lethal police violence among black boys for understanding racial disparities in health more broadly.

PMID:33453595 | DOI:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2020.104884