Objective: To determine the number and nature of publications on Indigenous health in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) in 1987-1988, 1997-1998 and 2001-2003.
Data sources: MEDLINE and PsychLit databases were searched using the following terms: Aborigines or Aboriginal; Torres Strait Islander; Maori; American Indian; North American Indian, or Indian, North American; Alaska/an Native; Native Hawaiian; Native American; American Samoan; Eskimos or Inuit; Eskimos or Aleut; Metis; Indigenous.
Study selection: Publications were included if they were concerned with the health of Indigenous people of the relevant countries. 1763 Indigenous health publications were selected.
Data extraction: Publications were classified as either: original research; reviews; program descriptions; discussion papers or commentaries; or case reports. Research publications were further classified as either measurement, descriptive, or intervention. Intervention studies were then classified as either experimental or non-experimental.
Data synthesis: The total number of publications was highest in 1997-1998 for most countries. The most common type of publication across all time periods for all countries was research publications. In Australia only, the number of research publications was slightly higher in 2001-2003 compared with other time periods. For each country and at each time, research was predominantly descriptive (75%-92%), with very little measurement (0-11%) and intervention research (0-18%). Overall, of the 1131 research publications, 983 were descriptive, 72 measurement and 76 intervention research.
Conclusions: The dominance of descriptive research in Indigenous health is not ideal, and our findings should be carefully considered by research organisations and researchers when developing research policies.