Unsupported Labeling of Race as a Risk Factor for Certain Diseases in a Widely Used Medical Textbook

Sheets, Lincoln MS CIS; Johnson, Jessica; Todd, Timothy; Perkins, Timothy; Gu, Chris; Rau, Megan

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31822bbdb5
Education Issues

Purpose: Confounding of racial, socioeconomic, and behavioral characteristics may lead to the misidentification of race as a risk factor for certain diseases. The authors evaluated the validity of attributing race as a risk factor in a widely used pathology textbook.

Method: In 2009–2010, the authors searched Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease, Professional Edition (8th ed) for assertions that African Americans have a different disease profile than do individuals of other races. They evaluated the references cited in the textbook, assessing the quality of the sources and whether those authors controlled for confounding variables, such as socioeconomic status and behavioral characteristics. For statements that remained unconfirmed, the authors searched the literature for evidence supporting or contradicting the claims made in the textbook. The authors classified each statement from the textbook as supported, unconfirmed, or contradicted.

Results: Of the 31 relevant statements, 11 were supported by the literature review, 17 remained unconfirmed, and three were contradicted.

Conclusions: About two-thirds of the assertions that different risk factors exist for African Americans found in a widely used pathology textbook could not be supported by the published literature. Failure to separate race from other socioeconomic and behavioral characteristics as risk factors for certain diseases may contribute to the misdiagnosis of patients and interfere with efforts to identify and remove causes of health disparities.

Mr. Sheets is a fourth-year medical student, University of Missouri–Columbia School of Medicine, Columbia, Missouri.

Ms. Johnson is a fourth-year medical student, University of Missouri–Columbia School of Medicine, Columbia, Missouri.

Mr. Todd is a fourth-year medical student, University of Missouri–Columbia School of Medicine, Columbia, Missouri.

Mr. Perkins is a third-year medical student, University of Missouri–Columbia School of Medicine, Columbia, Missouri.

Mr. Gu is a third-year medical student, University of Missouri–Columbia School of Medicine, Columbia, Missouri.

Ms. Rau is a third-year medical student, University of Missouri–Columbia School of Medicine, Columbia, Missouri.

Correspondence should be addressed to Mr. Sheets, 707 E. Delmar Street, Springfield, MO 65807; telephone: (417) 860-1197; e-mail: LincolnSheets@gmail.com.

First published online August 24, 2011.

© 2011 Association of American Medical Colleges