Department of Public Health’s Ethnicity Guidelines

Description of Standard

Below is an excerpt from the DPH guidelines:

“These guidelines were developed by SFDPH Community Programs epidemiologists, researchers, and analysts who share concerns regarding the collection, coding, reporting, interpretation, and use of social identity indicators. To monitor health outcomes and intervene on behaviors that are the underlying causes of disease and injuries, SFDPH must be able to incorporate changing definitions, relevance, and boundaries that individuals, communities, programs and/or institutions use to identify themselves and others.

These guidelines address the following key issues concerning race and ethnicity:

  1. Desire for consistency in grouping or categorizing of race and ethnicity data across time and data regimes.
  2. Need for flexibility to accommodate many different existing data collection practices.
  3. Lack of clarity in the meaning and use of terms defining race and ethnicity.”

Standard or Guideline

The full guidelines include details on how to collect and report the data. Below are excerpts:

A single set of common mutually-exclusive core ethnicity categories that are aligned with state and federal minimum reporting categories should be used.

Persons who select more than one ethnicity should be given the opportunity to also select their primary ethnicity.

Ethnicity data should be minimally reported by these core categories and definitions.


  • African American/ Black. A person having origins in any of the black ethnic groups of Africa
  • Asian. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia (including Philippines), or the Indian subcontinent
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (NHOPI). A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands
  • Native American. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North America, Central America, or South America
  • Latino/a. A person having origins in Mexico, Central America, South America, Puerto Rico, or Cuba
  • White. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa
  • Multi-ethnic. A person having origins in more than one of the other core categories specified.

“Other” should not be an option under the Core categories, for all ethnicities fall under one of the above seven options.

Who must comply

“All new data collection systems purchased or designed for or by the Department of Public Health that will be used to track the ethnicity of patients, clients, participants, or other cohorts must have the ability to track ethnicity in accordance with these guidelines. Additionally, reporting of collected data should also adhere to these guidelines whenever possible, recognizing third party reporting requirements may be in conflict.”


San Francisco Department of Public Health, Central Administration, “Principles for Collecting, Coding, and Reporting Social Identity Data – Ethnicity Guidelines (COM3)”.

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