School segregation linked to drinking problems among black youth – Consumer Health News

MONDAY, April 18, 2022 (HealthDay News) — School segregation may seem like a relic of the past, but it’s actually been increasing in the United States for years. Now, a new study shows that it had consequences for the health of black children.

The researchers found that in school districts with greater segregation, black students tended to have more behavioral problems and were more likely to drink alcohol, compared to their peers in more integrated districts.

The study – published online April 18 in the journal Pediatrics – highlights some of the potential fallout from “re-segregation,” the rollback of gains made in integrating American public schools decades ago.

In 1954, the landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education has declared racial segregation in schools unconstitutional. Over the next few decades, school districts subject to court-ordered desegregation became much more integrated.

But in the early 1990s, a series of Supreme Court decisions made it easier for districts to seek the lifting of this judicial oversight. The court said the desegregation orders were meant to be temporary, explained Dr. Rita Hamad, lead researcher on the new study.

Since then, hundreds of school districts that had been subject to court-ordered desegregation have been released from oversight — about 600 out of 1,000, according to Hamad, an associate professor-in-residence at the University of California, San Francisco.

During the same period, the United States has seen a resurgence of heavily segregated schools: the percentage of schools with few white students – 10% or less – more than tripled, from about 6% of schools nearly 19% in recent years.

But little is known about the potential impact of segregation on the well-being of black students, Hamad said.

So his team looked at data on more than 1,200 black children and teens in school districts that, in 1991, were still under court-ordered segregation. The children lived in these districts between 1991 and 2014, allowing researchers to examine the effects of a “natural experiment,” in which school district segregation increased over time.

Overall, the researchers found that experimentation with alcohol was fairly common among study participants aged 12 and older: 37% said they had ever had alcohol, while 18% drank it at least once a month. These odds were higher, however, in districts with greater segregation, especially among black girls.

The researchers measured segregation using the “dissimilarity index,” which represents the proportion of black or white students who would need to change schools to move to a more racially integrated school district. The index ranges from 0 to 1, with a higher value meaning more segregation.

Hamad’s team found that for every 0.2 increase in this index, there was a 62% increase in the likelihood that students would drink. It also translated to a 32% increase in the risk of student behavior problems, including hyperactivity and conflict with peers.

Hamad noted that there are various reasons why increased segregation could fuel these problems. On the one hand, she said, schools with a large proportion of black students are often underfunded, with fewer resources, higher teacher turnover and more overcrowded classrooms — all of which could contributing to behavioral difficulties in children.

The findings add to evidence that segregated schools are an aspect of structural racism that can harm the health of black children, said Dmitry Tumin, of East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine in Greenville, North Carolina. .

Tumin, who wrote an editorial published with the findings, said they were a reminder that school segregation continues and has effects “beyond school walls”.

Of course, children in highly segregated school districts likely live in segregated neighborhoods — which are themselves linked to health inequalities. But, Tumin said, the study design allowed for a focused look at schools.

“When school segregation increases suddenly and due to an external factor,” he said, “it creates an opportunity to estimate how school segregation is associated with health outcomes, net of the impact of other factors”.

What all of this means for the long-term well-being of black students is unclear. A question for future studies, Hamad said, is whether problems with school segregation persist as children get older.

Then there’s the even bigger question, “What do we do about it?” Hamad said. “Would, for example, increased funding for separate school districts help?”

She also noted the role of parents in the re-segregation of schools over the years. “A lot of the requests for release from judicial oversight came from parents in those school districts,” Hamad said.

The current results, she added, highlight some of the consequences for black students.

More information

Boston Children’s Hospital has more on racism and children’s health.

SOURCES: Rita Hamad, MD, PhD, associate professor in residence, family and community medicine, University of California, San Francisco; Dmitry Tumin, PhD, associate research professor, pediatrics, East Carolina University, Brody School of Medicine, Greenville, NC; PediatricsApril 18, 2022, online

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