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Limited Access to Health Data on American Indian and Alaska Natives Impedes Population Health Insights

November 16, 2020

Policy Brief

Authors: Tara Becker, PhD, Susan H. Babey, PhD, Riti Shimkhada, PhD, AJ Scheitler, EdD, Ninez A. Ponce, PhD, MPP

Summary: American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) people are underrepresented and often invisible in public health data and research. AIAN health data capacity is impeded by the quality of information collected, released, and reported on AIANs in population-based surveys. AIANs are either put in a residual “other” category or, typically, depicted as single-race non-Latinx AIANs. 

Findings: Though the figure varies substantially across federal surveys, fewer than two in five AIANs report as single-race non-Latinx AIANs. Drawing population inferences based on single-race AIANs also fails to capture the considerable segment of the AIAN population that comprises individuals of more than one race. To promote more accurate insights on the health of the AIAN population, authors examined eight population datasets, including pooled 2011-2014 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) data, that focus on health, health status, health behaviors, and health access. For each survey, authors assessed whether it is possible to identify AIAN respondents from (1) readily accessible public-use data files and (2) restricted data files. They also assessed the extent to which data users can distinguish three major subgroups within the AIAN race category from these data files: single-race non-Latinx AIAN, single-race Latinx AIAN, and AIAN of more than one race. In this policy brief, authors discuss the implications of the limited accessibility of AIAN information in population datasets and provide some recommendations that may help improve the availability of AIAN health information.


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