A note on the biologic concept of race and its application in epidemiologic research

Am Heart J. 1984 Sep;108(3 Pt 2):715-22. doi: 10.1016/0002-8703(84)90662-8.


Use of the category of race in epidemiologic research presupposes scientific validity for a system that divides man into subspecies. Although the significance of race may be clear-cut in many practical situations, an adequate theoretical construct based on biologic principles does not exist. Anthropologists have in large measure abandoned the biologic concept of race, and its persistent widespread use in epidemiology is a scientific anachronism. The assumption that race designates important genetic factors in a population is in most cases false. Racial definitions should be seen as primarily social in origin and should be clues to environmental-rather than genetic-causes of disease. An understanding of the social forces leading to racial differentials in health will give further direction to preventive campaigns.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans / history*
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Biological Evolution
  • Child
  • Continental Population Groups* / history
  • Coronary Disease / epidemiology
  • Epidemiologic Methods*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group
  • Female
  • Genetics, Medical
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Income
  • Male
  • Public Health
  • Race Relations
  • Research Design
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States