Beyond the Checkbox: New Standards for Health Data Reflect the Nation’s Diversity

Posted on by William Vaughn, Senior Health Communications Specialist, Abt contractor with NCHS Office of Information Services

Accurate data on race and ethnicity are essential for understanding the health of different populations. This information helps identify health disparities and supports public health programs and research. By collecting race and ethnicity data, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) plays a vital role in advancing health equity in the United States.

On March 28, 2024, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) changed the way NCHS and other statistical agencies will be collecting data on race and ethnicity. OMB is responsible for overseeing federal data collection standards. By updating Statistical Policy Directive No. 15 (SPD 15), the federal government hopes to improve the accuracy and usefulness of race and ethnicity data.

The changes represent the first major update to SPD 15 since 1997. OMB, NCHS, and other government stakeholders collaborated through an Interagency Technical Working Group to recommend changes to the previous policy. The process also included extensive feedback from the public.

Five Key Changes to Know

  1. One Question for Race and Ethnicity:
    • Before: Two separate questions were asked about Hispanic/Latino ethnicity and race.
    • Now: A single question combines both, allowing people to select multiple options or just one.
  1. Middle Eastern or North African Category (MENA):
    • Before: People from these regions often did not see themselves reflected in the race options because there was no MENA category.
    • Now: They have their own distinct category.
  1. More Detailed Data Required:
    • Before: Collecting detailed information was encouraged but not mandatory.
    • Now: Agencies must gather more data beyond broad categories unless they justify an exemption.
  1. Updates on Terms and Instructions:
    • Surveys must use more clear, up-to-date language, making it easier for participants to respond accurately.
  1. New Committee Formation:
    • A new Interagency Committee on Race and Ethnicity Statistical Standards will help oversee the policy directive, making sure it stays up to date with ongoing research and a review every 10 years.

For a more in-depth look at these and other changes to SPD 15, see the official OMB blog post by the Chief Statistician of the United States.

Looking Ahead:  Continued Collaboration

Along with other federal stakeholders, NCHS will be developing a plan to implement the changes. This plan will be made available to the public by the September 28, 2025, date set by OMB.

Changes will not be immediate. Reports produced by NCHS will reflect the previous standard for race and ethnicity as surveys and data collection are transitioned to the new standard.

As this important work continues, NCHS looks forward to working alongside other agencies and public health partners to improve race and ethnicity data collection.

Posted on by William Vaughn, Senior Health Communications Specialist, Abt contractor with NCHS Office of Information Services
Page last reviewed: April 5, 2024
Page last updated: April 5, 2024