Background: Cohort studies are recommended for understanding ethnic disparities in cardiovascular disease. Our objective was to review the process for identifying, including, and excluding ethnic minority populations in published cardiovascular cohort studies in Europe and North America.
Methods and findings: We found the literature using Medline (1966-2005), Embase (1980-2001), Cinahl, Web of Science, and citations from references; consultations with colleagues; Internet searches; and RB's personal files. A total of 72 studies were included, 39 starting after 1975. Decision-making on inclusion and exclusion of racial/ethnic groups, the conceptual basis of race/ethnicity, and methods of classification of racial/ethnic groups were rarely explicit. Few publications provided details on the racial/ethnic composition of the study setting or sample, and 39 gave no description. Several studies were located in small towns or in occupational settings, where ethnic minority populations are underrepresented. Studies on general populations usually had too few participants for analysis by race/ethnicity. Eight studies were explicitly on Caucasians/whites, and two excluded ethnic minority groups from the whole or part of the study on the basis of language or birthplace criteria. Ten studies were designed to compare white and nonwhite populations, while five studies focused on one nonwhite racial/ethnic group; all 15 of these were performed in the US.
Conclusions: There is a shortage of information from cardiovascular cohort studies on racial/ethnic minority populations, although this has recently changed in the US. There is, particularly in Europe, an inequity resulting from a lack of research data in nonwhite populations. Urgent action is now required in Europe to address this disparity.