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Oklahoma researchers find Native Americans underrepresented in CDC database

The Chickasaw Nation Dance Troupe takes part in the American Indian Honoring Ceremony at the OSU Center for Health Sciences.
Oklahoma State University
The Chickasaw Nation Dance Troupe takes part in the American Indian Honoring Ceremony at the OSU Center for Health Sciences.

A new study says the CDC reclassified Native American participants who self-reported their race in a survey, causing the total number of Indigenous respondents to be underreported.

An Indigenous team of researchers from the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine and the University of Oklahoma’s Tulsa School of Community Medicine analyzed the CDC’s 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System data and discovered the study utilized a single variable, known as an input race variable, to classify respondents who self-reported their race.

This meant Indigenous teens who reported being multiple races or ethnicities were not included in the Native category and were instead listed as just multi-racial or multi-ethnic. As a result, only 13.4% of all self-reported Native participants were properly accounted for.

According to the researchers, this type of statistical collection affects national studies that involve numerical evaluations of Native groups. These studies are used to determine the amount of resources and funding allocated to tribal nations, and can potentially affect health, social, and behavioral outcomes for Indigenous people.

“These numbers can tie back to questions like what are the unique strengths and experiences of this racial group? In relation to funding, where does the funding need to go? When we’re not thinking about identity in this complex way, we’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle which can lead to ineffective programs and interventions,” Cherokee Nation citizen and doctoral candidate researcher Amy Hendrix-Dicken said in a news release from OSU.

The team recommends the CDC take a more nuanced approach toward collecting data. And studies that utilize their numbers, look at the complexities of the populations surveyed.

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Katie Hallum covers Indigenous Affairs at KOSU.
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