Racial and ethnic categories are commonly used in a wide variety of scientific research on health disparities in the United States. For instance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis research often explains and documents differences between groups in terms of racial and ethnic categories. This practice can often lead physicians and other medical specialists to incorrectly assume that racial and ethnic differences are synonymous with genetic differences that can predispose some groups to ill health. While genetic differences may be a partial source of some of the health disparities seen in the U.S., using racial and ethnic categories as a genetic proxy promotes a biological concept of race, precludes environmental and social causes for health disparities, and inaccurately reflects human population variation. Using examples from the osteoporosis literature, this talk explores how racial and ethnic differences in bone density are frequently left unexplored and unexplained, allowing notions of inherent and/or biological racial differences to shape interpretations of the risk factors and causes of high or low bone density.

Mary Megyesi is a graduate of Michigan State University and currently works as an anthropologist at the JPAC-CIL. Her dissertation research focused on the use of racial and ethnic categories in bone density research and explored socioeconomic causes for the skeletal health disparities seen in osteoporosis in the U.S.

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