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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Minnesota: Tuskegee Study’s Medical Exploitation Led to Population-wide Declines in Health Among Black Men

A new research article co-authored by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health discusses how the well-known U.S. government study that secretly infected African-American men with syphilis may have harmed the health of future generations through what’s known as peripheral trauma. 

The new article was co-authored by assistant professor Dr. Rachel Hardeman and published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine to serve as a follow-up to the study, “Tuskegee and the Health of Black Men,” published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics

According to the authors, peripheral trauma exists when racially or ethnically targeted, adverse events lead to poor mental and physical health in minority groups — even among members not directly involved in the incident. 

Dr. Hardeman and her co-authors argue that peripheral trauma was also manifested through the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis (TSUS). The U.S. Public Health Service study began in 1932 and observed untreated syphilis in African-American men who were not told they had the infection. 

The study was publicly disclosed in 1972, and afterward, the mortality and health care utilization of black men declined after years of improvement, suggesting they’d lost trust in the health care system.

“In cases where the medical profession is the perpetrator of such actions, health effects may be even more pronounced as groups experience both the stress of targeting and heightened mistrust of the medical profession,” said Dr. Hardeman. “Some of the ongoing medical mistrust among black Americans in the medical profession is rooted in this historical exploitation, which means the peripheral trauma of TSUS spans generations.”

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