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Ethn Health. 1999 Nov;4(4):241-4.

Using ethnicity as a classification variable in health research: perpetuating the myth of biological determinism, serving socio-political agendas, or making valuable contributions to medical sciences?

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  • 1Department of Preventive Cardiology and Therapeutics, Hamilton Civic Hospitals Research Centre, McMaster University, Canada.


There is a need for a valid way to classify the human species consistently and reliably, be it to highlight similarities between human populations such as intelligence or physical capacity, to dispel myths about group differences, or to discover 'novel' risk factors for diseases. In contrast to racial divisions, which are usually based on differences in skin colour and physical features, ethnicity is a complex concept which has both socio-cultural and biological components. However, because of the relative vagueness of the term, the interpretation of the 'Ethnicity' construct is not simple, and its definition is often unique to the research project at hand. Therefore conducting ethnicity-research necessitates being aware of the differences between the concept of ethnicity and race, acknowledgement of the complexity of the ethnicity construct, and requires that a clear definition of the use of this term be made explicit by the researcher.

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