Intended for healthcare professionals


Describing race, ethnicity, and culture in medical research

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 27 April 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:1054
  1. Kwame McKenzie,
  2. N S Crowcroft
  1. Honorary research fellow Department of Psychological Medicine, King's College Hospital Medical School and Institute of Psychiatry, London SE5 8AX
  2. Fellow European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training, Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, Brussels 1050, Belgium

    Describing the groups studied is better than trying to find a catch all name

    The terminology of race, ethnicity, and culture is a source of continuing debate and will change because of fashion and politics.1 Given our diversity, the fact that ethnicity is now most often self classified, and that both ethnicity and culture are dynamic it seems unlikely that an agreed taxonomy can be achieved. But if researchers want to be able to compare results of studies now and in the future a framework is needed for the classification of ethnic or cultural groups.

    The nearest we have to an agreed classification in the United Kingdom are the categories used by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys in the 1991 census.2 This is a pragmatic classification that balances ease of collection against a need to produce data on the population.3 It is of limited use as a measure of sociocultural differences.3

    This leaves a void in which there are many different terms used for groups. For instance, a black Baptist born in the UK but whose parents were …

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