Op-Ed: Moving Beyond Race-Based Health

Op-Ed: Moving Beyond Race-Based Health

The Herald-Sun
Durham, North Carolina

Susanne Haga, IGSP Scholar, Assistant Research Professor
Duke Institute for Genome Science & Policy

At a time when genetics research continues to reveal just how similar we all are, it’s frustrating to see the continued reliance on race as a basis to treat individuals differently when it comes to their health.

I’m not referring to the inequitable treatment experienced by some groups with respect to access to health care services, but rather to the development of race-based products such as vitamins and drugs.

A company called GenSpec is selling vitamins specially formulated for African-Americans, Caucasians, and Hispanics.

While there are some differences in disease prevalence among races, there are no diseases or conditions—and certainly no nutritional requirements—that are exclusive to just one group. If we’ve learned anything from the last decade of genetics research, it’s that our DNA is generally colorblind.

Although genetics is involved in most if not all aspects of our health, the environment plays at least an equal role. Even if we knew which genes played a part in our dietary needs, it’s unlikely those differences would follow perceived racial divides…

…The recent increase in the numbers of people who identify with more than one race would seem to pose a rather large problem to the companies marketing race-based products.

Halle Berry, Tiger Woods, and Barack Obama are some of the more well-known names in this fast-growing group. Or perhaps these companies are smarter than we give them credit for.

One blogger, apparently of mixed heritage, asked if she should take the ‘Caucasian’ vitamins in the morning and the ‘African-American’ ones at night…

…Not only are companies misleading the public to believe that races are biologically distinct, requiring race-specific products, but the basis for their wares flies in the face of science. As we stride toward a more personal approach to health and medicine, we need to look beyond skin color. Population-based health and medicine should be a thing of the past.

Read the entire op-ed here.

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