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Logo of pubhealthrepPublic Health Reports
Public Health Rep. 1994 Jan-Feb; 109(1): 26–41.
PMCID: PMC1402239

The concept of race and health status in America.


Race is an unscientific, societally constructed taxonomy that is based on an ideology that views some human population groups as inherently superior to others on the basis of external physical characteristics or geographic origin. The concept of race is socially meaningful but of limited biological significance. Racial or ethnic variations in health status result primarily from variations among races in exposure or vulnerability to behavioral, psychosocial, material, and environmental risk factors and resources. Additional data that capture the specific factors that contribute to group differences in disease must be collected. However, reductions in racial disparities in health will ultimately require change in the larger societal institutions and structures that determine exposure to pathogenic conditions. More attention needs to be given to the ways that racism, in its multiple forms, affects health status. Socio-economic status is a central determinant of health status, overlaps the concept of race, but is not equivalent to race. Inadequate attention has been given to the range of variation in social, cultural, and health characteristics within and between racial or ethnic minority populations. There is a growing emphasis, both within and without the Federal Government, on the collection of racial or ethnic identifiers in health data systems, but noncoverage of the Asian and Pacific Islander population, Native Americans, and subgroups of the Hispanic population is still a major problem. However, for all racial or ethnic groups, we need not only more data but better data. We must be more active in directly measuring the health-related aspects of belonging to these social categories.

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Selected References

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