Background: Few Australian studies have examined the prevalence of racism and its impact on the health of Aboriginal children. We aim to provide contemporary insights on the relative importance of racism as a determinant of Aboriginal child health and health inequalities.
Methods: We examined the relationship between a range of physical and mental health indicators and three dimensions of racism, using data on Aboriginal children aged 5-10 years from the Footprints in Time Study. Analysis was conducted using multivariate logistic regression within a multilevel framework.
Results: Two-fifths (40%) of primary carers, 45% of families and 14% of Aboriginal children aged 5-10 years had experienced racism, with 28-40% of these experiencing persistent racism (reported in multiple time points). There was generally a significant positive association between primary carer and child experiences of racism and the physical and mental health of the child—this applies to mental health status, sleep difficulties, obesity and asthma, but not general health and injury. Effect sizes tended to be larger for those exposed to persistent racism, and are suggestive of a dose-response relationship between racism and health.
Conclusions: The study highlights that a substantial proportion of Aboriginal children are exposed to racism, and that these children are likely to have poorer physical and mental health. These results further confirm that racism is a critical determinant of the health of Aboriginal populations, including children. The findings provide further support to the notion that eliminating racism may make a considerable improvement to overall Aboriginal child population health and therefore reduce health disparities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children.