Race as a Disease Descriptor

Race as a Disease Descriptor

Race is often used as a descriptor of disease burden and helps us to determine where health disparities exist in order to address them, which is important. It is helpful to differentiate between race as a descriptor and race as a risk factor. Think about institutional racism and its influence on health. Consider the factors related to race and ethnicity that might be influencing disease status more than the genetics of race when answering this discussion question.

Consider the following statement: “Race is not a risk factor and should not be used in public health data collection.” Discuss the ethical and public health implications of this statement. When might collecting data on race perpetuate institutional racism leading to health disparities and when is it necessary to improve public health? Provide support and examples for your answer. Consider ethical issues related to respect for persons, beneficence, and justice as described in “The Belmont Report.”

Race as a Disease Descriptor

Public health studies on racial differences in the United States have, over the years, been dominated by a genetic model that considers race as primarily exemplifying biological homogeneity. Most fundamentally, the use of this genetic model has significantly obscured the social origin of illnesses and depicted inferiority among some communities (Quiñones et al. 2014). On the one hand, this model has throughout time followed scientifically flawed assumptions which point out that race is a valid biological category, genes determining an individual’s race are directly linked to those used in the evaluation of health, and the welfare of a population is primarily determined by the biological constitution of the population (Capers & Sharalaya, 2014). On the other hand, an alternative model used entails the depiction of race as a taxonomy constructed by society that reflects the intersection of biological, socioeconomic, cultural, legal, and political determinants, as well as racism. 

Consequently, due to the assumptions and flaws in these models, the ethical and public health implications that can be derived concur with the statement that “race is not a risk factor and should not be used public health data collection.” Firstly, in spite of its miniature contribution to health, genetics and other biological factors should be included in the determination of the primary causes of disorders (Capers & Sharalaya, 2014). Secondly, social and economic structures by which different communities live can shape values and behaviors in ways that lead to health consequences. For instance, in the United States, the differentials in health status associated with race are relatively smaller than those related to socioeconomic status based on education, occupational status, income, or a combination of these three elements. Moreover, the conceptual development of measures of racism and racial discrimination at individual and institutional levels plays an integral role in the comprehension of racial differences in health (Quiñones et al. 2014). Therefore, the emphasis on race as a risk factor hinders the consideration of other essential factors such as age and gender, as well as the processes by which they relate to each other and influence health status.

Similarly, other implications include the violation of the beneficence ethical principle applied in public health by failing to respect other people and associating their racial differences with the vulnerability of developing distinct illnesses (Quiñones et al. 2014). Additionally, it is an injustice to associate certain racial and ethnic groups with a higher probability of developing different illnesses based on the propensity of their exposure rate as it would lead to health disparities and inequity in the access to necessary care. Nonetheless, the perpetuation of institutional racism in collecting data on race may lead to health disparities during the comparison of the relative risk to exposure and effects of a disease or outcome across different racial/ethnic communities living in a specific region under study (Quiñones et al. 2014). Besides, the improvement of health would occur through the use of the findings to create awareness and educate people from different communities on the various risk factors.


Capers, Q., & Sharalaya, Z. (2014). Racial Disparities in Cardiovascular Care: A Review of Culprits and Potential Solutions. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities1(3), 171-180.

Quiñones, A. R., Talavera, G. A., Castañeda, S. F., & Saha, S. (2014). Interventions that Reach into Communities—Promising Directions for Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities2(3), 336-340.

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