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Race and Public Health

  1. William W. Dressler

Published Online: 21 FEB 2014

DOI: 10.1002/9781118410868.wbehibs417

The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health, Illness, Behavior, and Society

The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health, Illness, Behavior, and Society

How to Cite

Dressler, W. W. 2014. Race and Public Health. The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health, Illness, Behavior, and Society. 2017–2021.

Author Information

  1. University of Alabama, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 21 FEB 2014

Abstract

The description and explanation of racial and ethnic health disparities is a major initiative in public health research. Two major explanations have dominated discussions of health disparities. The first is that genes contributing to the risk of disease aggregate by race. The second is that racial minorities are subject to prejudice and discriminatory acts on the basis of their minority status, the stresses of which contribute to disease risk. Both of these explanations require an explicit reconceptualization of race. Genetic researchers have used the tools of molecular biology to identify “ancestry informative markers,” or sets of genetic polymorphisms shared by individuals descended from a single population. The logic of defining racial groups in terms of these markers is, however, problematic in much the same way that older definitions based on skin color were. A more fruitful approach is to focus on how racial and ethnic groups are culturally constructed in a given setting, and how individuals both self-identify and are identified by others as belonging to a particular group. Evidence suggests that the combination of the cultural construction of race and structural barriers confronting minority groups contribute substantially to the explanation of health disparities.

Keywords:

  • African American;
  • cardiovascular diseases;
  • culture, race, and ethnicity;
  • stress