Improving racial health disparities may backfire

Leveraging identity for health info reverses for Black Americans.


Doctors trying to engage patients with health information might succeed with white Americans but face challenges with Black Americans. A University of Michigan report suggests that targeted health campaigns may not effectively increase engagement among Black Americans. 

The study, published in Science and based on data from the Journal of Communication, reveals that many Black Americans feel unfairly judged based on their race, causing the information-targeting strategy to backfire. The research, conducted by U-M psychologist Allison Earl and Veronica Derricks of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, emphasizes the shortcomings of communication strategies, particularly among marginalized races.

Earl, associate professor of psychology, said, “We find that targeting information based on marginalized racial identities predicts decrements in attention, trust, and willingness to engage in message-relevant behavior among Black Americans who experience social identity threat.”

Efforts to address health disparities face challenges, highlighting the need for effective interventions. Biases among clinicians and policies affecting resource allocation hinder proper health information for minority patients, particularly impacting Black Americans. Limited support for necessary policies underscores the critical need for behavior-changing interventions.

In a recent study, targeted health messages about HIV or flu led to decreased attention and trust among Black Americans but had no differential effect on White Americans. Despite ongoing health disparities, there’s limited interest in addressing these issues among politicians and the general public. In some cases, there might even be efforts to maintain these disparities.

The study underscores the complexity of addressing racial health disparities, emphasizing the need for nuanced and effective interventions. Strategies that succeed in one demographic may not necessarily translate to success in another, and a deeper understanding of the root causes is crucial for developing comprehensive solutions. Additionally, the need for more support for policies to reduce disparities highlights the challenges in achieving meaningful change at the systemic level.

Journal reference:

  1. Allison Earl and Veronica Derricks. Increasing policy support for reducing racial health disparities. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.adm7199.
  2. Allison Earl and Veronica Derricks. Too Close for Comfort: leveraging identity-based Relevance through Targeted Health Information Backfires for Black Americans. Journal of Communications. DOI: 10.1093/joc/jqad022.


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