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187 Racial discrimination, life stress and allostatic load in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults

Cave, L., Cooper, M.N., Zubrick, S.R. and Shepherd, C.C.J. (2021) 187 Racial discrimination, life stress and allostatic load in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults. International Journal of Epidemiology, 50 (Supp.1).

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Increased allostatic load is linked with racial discrimination exposure, providing a mechanism for the biological embedding of racism as a psychosocial stressor. We undertook an examination of how racial discrimination interacts with socioecological, environmental and health conditions to affect multisystem dysregulation in a First Nations population.


We conducted latent class analysis (LCA) using indicators of life stress, socioeconomic background and physical and mental health from a nationally representative sample of Australian Aboriginal adults (N = 2 056). We used LCA with distal outcomes to estimate the effect of the latent class variable on our derived allostatic load index and conducted a stratified analysis to test whether allostatic load varied based on exposure to racial discrimination across latent classes.


Our socioecological, environmental and health measures informed a four-class structure; ‘Low risk’ (30.8%), ‘Challenged but healthy’ (27.8%), ‘Mental health risk’ (24.0%) and ‘Multiple challenges’ (17.4%). Mean allostatic load was highest in ‘Multiple challenges’ compared to all other classes, both in those exposed (4.5; 95% CI: 3.9, 5.0) and not exposed (3.9; 95% CI: 3.7, 4.2) to racial discrimination. Allostatic load was significantly higher for those with exposure to racial discrimination in the ‘Multiple challenges’ class (t = 1.74, p=.04) and significantly lower in the ‘Mental health risk’ class (t=-1.67, p=.05).


Racial discrimination may not always modify physiological vulnerability to disease. Social and economic contexts must be considered when addressing the impact of racism, with a focus on individuals and sub-populations experiencing co-occurring life challenges.

Key messages

Racial discrimination can increase physiological dysregulation in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults with a profile of psychosocial stress and adverse health.

Item Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Copyright: © 2021 The Authors.
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