White, European, Western, Caucasian, or what? Inappropriate labeling in research on race, ethnicity, and health

Am J Public Health. 1998 Sep;88(9):1303-7. doi: 10.2105/ajph.88.9.1303.


The request for scientifically appropriate terminology in research on race, ethnicity, and health has largely bypassed the term White. This and other words, such as Caucasian, are embedded in clinical and epidemiological discourse, yet they are rarely defined. This commentary analyzes the issue from the perspective of the epidemiology of the health of minority ethnic and racial groups in Europe and the United States. Minority groups are usually compared with populations described as White, Caucasian, European, Europid, Western, Occidental, indigenous, native, and majority. Such populations are heterogeneous, the labels nonspecific, and the comparisons misleading. Terminology that reflects the research purpose-for examples, reference, control, or comparison--is better (unlike White, these terms imply no norm, allowing neither writers nor readers to make stereotyped assumptions about the comparison populations. This paper widens the debate on nomenclature for racial and ethnic groups. Many issues need exploration, including whether there is a shared understanding among the international research community of the terms discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Control Groups
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Editorial Policies
  • Epidemiology
  • Ethnicity*
  • Europe / ethnology
  • Health
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Racial Groups*
  • Research*
  • Terminology as Topic*
  • United States