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January 25, 1993

How Was 'Race' Determined?

Author Affiliations

Groton, Conn

Arch Intern Med. 1993;153(2):260. doi:10.1001/archinte.1993.00410020104012

Stevens and colleagues1 concern themselves with fat patterning in black and white women. In their description of methods, however, they volunteer that "the only anthropometric variables measured in the first examination were height and weight."1 If this were the case, how could the study have determined which subjects were "black" and which were "white"? The potential importance of dichotomizing subjects by race is often undermined by poor descriptions of methods and definitions used to identify racial categories.2 For example, were subjects in the Charleston Heart Study encouraged or permitted to claim mixed racial heritage, or might subjects have been assigned to such a category by a clerk? Considering the level of detail that Stevens and colleagues provide for measuring chest, abdominal, and midarm girth, one might have expected some specifics pertaining to the racial dichotomy. If race constitutes a valid concept for demographic classification, then it should