Use of Race and Ethnicity in Public Health Surveillance: Summary of the CDC/ATSDR Workshop

Use of Race and Ethnicity in Public Health Surveillance: Summary of the CDC/ATSDR Workshop

United States Department of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
Volume 42, 1993-06-25, Number RR-10
28 pages


This edition of MMWR Recommendations and Reports summarizes a workshop that addresses the role of race and ethnicity in public health surveillance. The importance of public health surveillance efforts in assuring the nation’s health objectives cannot be overstated. However, because of a lack of consensus when defining and measuring race and ethnicity, public health surveillance systems have been limited. If the Year 2000 Health Objectives are to be met, recognizing and addressing these limitations are essential.

The issues addressed in this report highlight concepts, measures, and uses of race and ethnicity in public health surveillance. Representing the private sector, government and other public agencies, workshop participants assisted CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in describing, assessing, and improving the use of race and ethnicity in public health surveillance. The involvement of health professional organizations and minority health advocates ensured that relevant “real life” health concerns of racial and ethnic groups were addressed. This report includes summaries of plenary presentations by invited experts. The summaries do not necessarily represent the views or positions of CDC.

The workshop focused on the limitations of the current use of race and ethnicity in public health surveillance, and the problems that persist because of these limitations. Although conceptual alternatives and practical strategies for improvement were recommended, further refinement is necessary. For example, while race may have some biological basis, its significance is mainly derived from social arrangements. Thus, race should be viewed within public health surveillance as a sociological phenomenon. Race and ethnicity are not risk factors — they are markers used to better understand risk factors. For instance, homicide disproportionately impacts African American communities; however, when income status is considered, the impact of homicide in African American communities is similiar to that in white communities. Finally, there should be further exploration of the full utility of the concept of ethnicity. This term generally has been limited to definers such as surname or language, while ignoring, for example, the importance of historical and sociological experiences.

The recommendations generated from the workshop were developed for CDC/ATSDR and some of them may be used to improve surveillance systems at CDC/ATSDR and in other parts of the Public Health Service. In addition, some of these recommendations may be used to update the 1985 Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health, as well as in measuring progress in reaching theYear 2000 Health Objectives. These recommendations have been submitted to the Director of CDC for consideration. They are being published in this format to stimulate further discussion. Some of these recommendations may exceed the missions of CDC and ATSDR, may be in conflict with other recommendations, or may be in various stages of implementation. Any comments regarding these recommendations may be sent to me at: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of the Associate Director for Minority Health, 1600 Clifton Road, MS-D39, Atlanta, GA 30333.

Rueben C. Warren, D.D.S., M.P.H., Dr.P.H.
Associate Director for Minority Health…

Read the entire report here.

Tags: , , , , , ,