Logo of jepicomhJournal of Epidemiology and Community HealthVisit this articleSubmit a manuscriptReceive email alertsContact usBMJ
J Epidemiol Community Health. 2005 Dec; 59(12): 1014–1018.
PMCID: PMC1732973

Negro, Black, Black African, African Caribbean, African American or what? Labelling African origin populations in the health arena in the 21st century


Broad terms such as Black, African, or Black African are entrenched in scientific writings although there is considerable diversity within African descent populations and such terms may be both offensive and inaccurate. This paper outlines the heterogeneity within African populations, and discusses the strengths and limitations of the term Black and related labels from epidemiological and public health perspectives in Europe and the USA. This paper calls for debate on appropriate terminologies for African descent populations and concludes with the proposals that (1) describing the population under consideration is of paramount importance (2) the word African origin or simply African is an appropriate and necessary prefix for an ethnic label, for example, African Caribbean or African Kenyan or African Surinamese (3) documents should define the ethnic labels (4) the label Black should be phased out except when used in political contexts.

Full Text

The Full Text of this article is available as a PDF (69K).

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Senior PA, Bhopal R. Ethnicity as a variable in epidemiological research. BMJ. 1994 Jul 30;309(6950):327–330. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • McKenzie K, Crowcroft NS. Describing race, ethnicity, and culture in medical research. BMJ. 1996 Apr 27;312(7038):1054–1054. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Bhopal R, Donaldson L. White, European, Western, Caucasian, or what? Inappropriate labeling in research on race, ethnicity, and health. Am J Public Health. 1998 Sep;88(9):1303–1307. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Sheldon TA, Parker H. Race and ethnicity in health research. J Public Health Med. 1992 Jun;14(2):104–110. [PubMed]
  • Hahn RA. The state of federal health statistics on racial and ethnic groups. JAMA. 1992 Jan 8;267(2):268–271. [PubMed]
  • Cooper R, David R. The biological concept of race and its application to public health and epidemiology. J Health Polit Policy Law. 1986 Spring;11(1):97–116. [PubMed]
  • Bhopal R. Is research into ethnicity and health racist, unsound, or important science? BMJ. 1997 Jun 14;314(7096):1751–1756. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Afshari R, Bhopal RS. Changing pattern of use of 'ethnicity' and 'race' in scientific literature. Int J Epidemiol. 2002 Oct;31(5):1074–1074. [PubMed]
  • LaVeist TA. Beyond dummy variables and sample selection: what health services researchers ought to know about race as a variable. Health Serv Res. 1994 Apr;29(1):1–16. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Rahemtulla Taslin, Bhopal Raj. Pharmacogenetics and ethnically targeted therapies. BMJ. 2005 May 7;330(7499):1036–1037. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • McKenzie KJ, Crowcroft NS. Race, ethnicity, culture, and science. BMJ. 1994 Jul 30;309(6950):286–287. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Bhopal R. Glossary of terms relating to ethnicity and race: for reflection and debate. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2004 Jun;58(6):441–445. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Comstock R Dawn, Castillo Edward M, Lindsay Suzanne P. Four-year review of the use of race and ethnicity in epidemiologic and public health research. Am J Epidemiol. 2004 Mar 15;159(6):611–619. [PubMed]
  • Agyemang Charles, Bhopal Raj. Is the blood pressure of people from African origin adults in the UK higher or lower than that in European origin white people? A review of cross-sectional data. J Hum Hypertens. 2003 Aug;17(8):523–534. [PubMed]
  • Balarajan R. Ethnic differences in mortality from ischaemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease in England and Wales. BMJ. 1991 Mar 9;302(6776):560–564. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Bhopal RS, Phillimore P, Kohli HS. Inappropriate use of the term 'Asian': an obstacle to ethnicity and health research. J Public Health Med. 1991 Nov;13(4):244–246. [PubMed]
  • Rivara F, Finberg L. Use of the terms race and ethnicity. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2001 Feb;155(2):119–119. [PubMed]
  • Kaplan Judith B, Bennett Trude. Use of race and ethnicity in biomedical publication. JAMA. 2003 May 28;289(20):2709–2716. [PubMed]
  • Williams DR, Jackson JS. Race/ethnicity and the 2000 census: recommendations for African American and other black populations in the United States. Am J Public Health. 2000 Nov;90(11):1728–1730. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Williams DR. Race and health: basic questions, emerging directions. Ann Epidemiol. 1997 Jul;7(5):322–333. [PubMed]
  • Oppenheimer GM. Paradigm lost: race, ethnicity, and the search for a new population taxonomy. Am J Public Health. 2001 Jul;91(7):1049–1055. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Fang J, Madhavan S, Alderman MH. The association between birthplace and mortality from cardiovascular causes among black and white residents of New York City. N Engl J Med. 1996 Nov 21;335(21):1545–1551. [PubMed]
  • Singh Gopal K, Siahpush Mohammad. Ethnic-immigrant differentials in health behaviors, morbidity, and cause-specific mortality in the United States: an analysis of two national data bases. Hum Biol. 2002 Feb;74(1):83–109. [PubMed]
  • David RJ, Collins JW., Jr Differing birth weight among infants of U.S.-born blacks, African-born blacks, and U.S.-born whites. N Engl J Med. 1997 Oct 23;337(17):1209–1214. [PubMed]
  • Low N, Sterne JA, Barlow D. Inequalities in rates of gonorrhoea and chlamydia between black ethnic groups in south east London: cross sectional study. Sex Transm Infect. 2001 Feb;77(1):15–20. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Taylor KL, Kerner JF, Gold KF, Mandelblatt JS. Ever vs never smoking among an urban, multiethnic sample of Haitian-, Caribbean-, and U.S.-born blacks. Prev Med. 1997 Nov-Dec;26(6):855–865. [PubMed]
  • Timmers GJ, Schouten JA, ter Wee PM, Gans RO. Hypertensie bij de negroïde patiënt. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 1999 Jan 30;143(5):229–234. [PubMed]
  • Cruickshank JK, Cooper J, Burnett M, MacDuff J, Drubra U. Ethnic differences in fasting plasma C-peptide and insulin in relation to glucose tolerance and blood pressure. Lancet. 1991 Oct 5;338(8771):842–847. [PubMed]
  • Chaturvedi N, McKeigue PM, Marmot MG. Resting and ambulatory blood pressure differences in Afro-Caribbeans and Europeans. Hypertension. 1993 Jul;22(1):90–96. [PubMed]
  • Haines AP, Booroff A, Goldenberg E, Morgan P, Singh M, Wallace P. Blood pressure, smoking, obesity and alcohol consumption in black and white patients in general practice. J Hum Hypertens. 1987 Jun;1(1):39–46. [PubMed]
  • Rait G. Commentary: counting heads may mask cultural and social factors. BMJ. 1999 Jan 30;318(7179):305–306. [PubMed]
  • Collins JW, Jr, David RJ. Race and birthweight in biracial infants. Am J Public Health. 1993 Aug;83(8):1125–1129. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Polednak AP, King G. Birth weight of US biracial (black-white) infants: regional differences. Ethn Dis. 1998 Autumn;8(3):340–349. [PubMed]

Articles from Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health are provided here courtesy of BMJ Group


Save items

Related citations in PubMed

See reviews...See all...

Cited by other articles in PMC

See all...


  • Cited in Books
    Cited in Books
    PubMed Central articles cited in books
  • MedGen
    Related information in MedGen
  • PubMed
    PubMed citations for these articles

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...