How to interpret research on ethnicity and COVID-19 risk and outcomes: five key questions

COVID-19 Ethnic communities Health inequity Research methodology

The coronavirus pandemic has brought ethnic inequalities in health to the attention of the public. This web report outlines five key questions to help you to evaluate research on ethnicity and COVID-19 risk and outcomes.

Key points:

  • Evidence on how COVID-19 is impacting on the population has helped to highlight striking inequalities in risk and outcomes across different population groups. Describing systematic differences in health outcomes between these different groups is one important step in identifying how to address inequality in society.
  • Studies of ethnicity and COVID-19 that are not underpinned by a strong guiding theory or that use ethnicity data superficially might contribute to perpetuating ethnic inequalities rather than simply describing them. For example, a ‘kitchen sink’ approach to statistical modelling to identify factors that contribute to ethnic differences in risk, in which numerous variables are thrown together without a guiding theory, obscures the complex pathways linking macroeconomic, social and public policies to outcomes.
  • Differences in the risk and outcomes faced by different ethnic groups can only be understood and tackled if analysis is interpreted in the context of how lives are lived and experienced, including the experience of discrimination rooted in racism. The latter includes structural, institutional and interpersonal forms of racism. Proposed explanations for ethnic differences in risk and outcomes for COVID-19 should be tested with data and with reference to the testimony of the minority ethnic groups concerned.
  • Studying ethnicity is a complex area and working in partnership with representatives from the affected minority ethnic communities will help to improve understanding and make research more useful to those communities and those seeking to reduce inequality.
  • Knowing which studies in this area are most robust can be difficult. This long read identifies five key questions to help readers evaluate reports on ethnicity and COVID-19 risk and outcomes. The issues raised are also helping the Health Foundation to develop the research it carries out and commissions.
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