Structural racism and its pathways to asthma and atopic dermatitis

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2021 Nov;148(5):1112-1120. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2021.09.020.


Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people in the United States experience a disproportionate burden of asthma and atopic dermatitis. The study of these disease disparities has focused on proximal socioenvironmental exposures and on the biomechanistic (including genetic) differences between racial and ethnic groups. Although biomedical research in allergy and immunology stands to benefit from the inclusion of diverse study populations, the narrow focus on biologic mechanisms disregards the complexity of interactions across biologic and structural factors, including the effects of structural racism. Structural racism is the totality of ways in which society fosters discrimination by creating and reinforcing inequitable systems through intentional policies and practices sanctioned by government and institutions. It is embedded across multiple levels, including the economic, educational, health care, and judicial systems, which are manifested in inequity in the physical and social environment. In this review, we present a conceptual framework and pull from the literature to demonstrate how structural racism is a root cause of atopic disease disparities by way of residential segregation, socioeconomic position, and mass incarceration, which may lead to aberrations in the innate and adaptive immune response and the augmentation of physiologic stress responses, contributing to a disproportionate disease burden for racial and ethnic populations.

Keywords: Racism; allergic dermatitis; asthma; atopy; health disparities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Asthma / etiology*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / epidemiology*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / etiology*
  • Ethnicity*
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Racism*
  • United States / epidemiology