Association between perceived racism and physiological stress indices in Native Hawaiians

J Behav Med. 2012 Feb;35(1):27-37. doi: 10.1007/s10865-011-9330-z. Epub 2011 Mar 1.


The association between racism and the physical health of native U.S. populations has yet to be examined despite their high risk for stress-related disorders and a history of discrimination toward them. We examined the correlation between perceived racism and the two physiological stress indices of cortisol level and blood pressure in 146 adult Native Hawaiians. Attributed and felt racism were assessed with a 10-item shortened version of the Oppression Questionnaire. Height, weight, blood pressure, and salivary cortisol samples (AM and PM) were collected and analyzed along with information on Hawaiian ancestry, BMI, age, sex, marital status, education level, general psychological stress, and ethnic identity. The results indicated that Native Hawaiians reporting more attributed racism had significantly (P < .05) lower average cortisol levels than those reporting less attributed racism, after adjusting for socio-demographic, biological, and psychosocial confounders. Native Hawaiians reporting more felt racism had a significantly higher systolic blood pressure than those reporting less, but this association was not significant after adjusting for the aforementioned confounders. Racism appears to be a chronic stressor that can "get under the skin" of Native Hawaiians by affecting their physical health and risk for stress-related diseases, possibly, through mechanisms of cortisol dysregulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Hawaii
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander*
  • Perception
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prejudice*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Hydrocortisone