Ethnicity and health

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Ethnicity is a major factor affecting the health of individuals and communities. While the Wikipedia entries under 'ethnicity' (or 'ethnic group') describe many national differences in the way that ethnic groups are described, and there is near-universal agreement that 'ethnicity' is a socially constructed identity, and not (unlike the falsely constructed concept of 'race'), a genetically determined and enduring 'fact' which determines behaviour and the qualities of the individual, nevertheless, membership of an ethnic group is likely to imply certain very specific health risks and needs. For example, genetic heritage among those who are described or describe themselves as "Ashkenazi Jewish" means a much higher probability of a child being born with 'Tay Sachs' disease (almost exclusively - that is, this disease is very rare indeed outside this community and its descendants). Similarly, people of West African heritage have a much higher probability of being born with - or carrying the genetic 'trait' for, Sickle Cell disease (Dyson S 1998 'Race, ethnicity and haemoglobin disorders' Social Science and Medicine 37,1 :121-131). A recent editorial in the British Medical Journal reports that 'lactose intolerance' affects (over the lifetime)as many as 25% of 'white Europeans' but up to 50-80% of 'Hispanic' people, along with people from southern India and Ashkenazi Jews, but nearly 100% of "American Indians" (Native Americans) - (Bhatnagar S, Aggarwal R, 2007 'Lactose Intolerance' British Medical Journal 334 :1331-1332 doi=10.1136/bmj.39252.524375.80) .The science of 'ethnic health', or research into ethnicity and health, and the development of services which are 'culturally competent' to meet the specific health care needs of minority ethnic groups, is still in its infancy (Johnson MRD ‘Ethnicity’ in (Eds Killoran A, Swann C, Kelly M) Public health evidence: Changing the health of the public Oxford: University Press (2006)).

In the United States of America, the Office of Minority Health (OMHRC - [1]) provides useful links and supports research and development relating to the needs of America's ethnic minorities. In the United Kingdom, the NHS (national health service) has created a 'specialist library' (SLEH: The Specialist Library for Ethnicity & Health)[2] to collate and validate evidence and resources (such as translated leaflets about diseases, in minority languages), to support health care professionals and community groups develop cultuarlly competent services. Similarly, there are growing numbers of resource and research centres which are seeking to provide this service for other national settings (such as Multicultural Mental Health Australia - [3].

See also