Researcher: Election Stress Can Impact Health

Jun 20, 2017
Originally published on June 19, 2017 9:02 pm

The 2016 presidential election generated a lot of stress. But for those in ethnic and religious groups in the middle of the debate, the stress could be affecting their health.  

David R. Williams is a Harvard professor of public health who recently published an article on the subject in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Williams looked at research that showed how increased acts of hostility toward immigrants, minorities and Muslims are linked to adverse health effects.

The stress-related conditions include hypertension, heart disease and premature births, Williams said.

"In a very divided nation, how we relate to each other and how we treat each other can make a difference, not just for them having a good day or a bad day but literally can make a difference for their health," he said.

One of the studies that showed how stress can impact health was done in the months following 9/11 when there was a documented increase in harassment and discrimination against Arab Americans, Williams said.

The California study looked at birth outcomes in women of all racial groups and found that Arab American women gave birth to more preterm babies and babies with low birth weight in the six months following 9/11.

"So the stress in the environment was not only affecting the mental health of the population, but for those women who were pregnant it was actually affecting their unborn child,” Williams said.

Compounding the problem would be major cuts to social services, which have been proposed in the House version of the Republican plan for health care reform, Williams said.

Studies done after Ronald Reagan-era cuts to food stamps, Medicaid and children’s access to free and reduced lunches showed increases in infant mortality in poor populations, preventable childhood health problems among poor populations and increases in chronic diseases among the elderly who lost Medicaid.

Doctors can help by understanding that some of their patients could be under more stress and experiencing increased hostility.

"So we want doctors to create safe places where patients can talk about their challenges and doctors can provide support," Williams said.

Health care providers can also reach out to school systems to provide awareness skills to teachers so they can sensitively deal with these issues in classrooms, Williams said.