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Race, Environmental Inequality, and Physical Health

Underserved and Socially Disadvantaged Groups and Linkages with Health and Health Care Differentials

ISBN: 978-1-83867-055-9, eISBN: 978-1-83867-054-2

Publication date: 30 August 2019



Although established theoretical models suggest that race differences in physical health are partially explained by exposures to environmental toxins, there is little empirical evidence to support these processes. We build on previous research by formally testing whether black–white differences in self-rated physical health are mediated by the embodiment of environmental toxins.


Using cross-sectional data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (2007–2008), we employ ordinary least squares regression to model environmental toxins (from urine specimens) and overall self-rated health as a function of race and ethnicity. We employ the Sobel test of indirect effects to formally assess mediation.


Our results show that non-Hispanic black respondents tend to exhibit higher levels of total toxins, lead, and cadmium in their urine and poorer physical health than non-Hispanic whites, even with adjustments for age, gender, and socioeconomic status (SES). Our mediation analyses suggest that blacks may exhibit poorer physical health than whites because they tend to embody higher levels of cadmium.

Research Limitations/Implications

Research limitations include cross-sectional data and restricted indicators of SES.

Originality/Value of Paper

This study contributes to previous work by bridging the fields of social epidemiology and environmental inequality and by formally testing established theoretical models.



Brailsford, J.M., Eckhardt, J., Hill, T.D., Burdette, A.M. and Jorgenson, A.K. (2019), "Race, Environmental Inequality, and Physical Health", Underserved and Socially Disadvantaged Groups and Linkages with Health and Health Care Differentials (Research in the Sociology of Health Care, Vol. 37), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 71-86.



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