From PHS 795 Student Edward Vargas:
I wanted to share this paper we published on language bias among Spanish speaking Latinos when examining health status. Long story short, all major survey’s using the Self-Rated Health Measure…“How would you rate your overall physical health — excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?” translate the “fair” category to be “regular” in Spanish. This however is not the way native Spanish speakers interpret “fair” health. In this paper, we do a wording experiment showing that using “regular” instead of “mas o menos” (which we argue gets closer to what “fair” health means), over inflates poor health status. Why does this matter? Read the paper and holla at me!
OK — now, this is awesome. First student-suggested blog post, and it involves their own research — and it’s right in line with the material we’re covering in course this week. For example, the Hruschka reading mentions the importance of research looking at culture as an explanatory factor for why we observe differences in health or health outcomes associated with health interventions. Hruschka admonishes us to look at specific mechanisms and not just reflexively appeal to a vague concept of culture, and that is exactly what Edward and his co-author Gabriel Sanchez have done here.
Language and culture go hand in hand — language often forming a basis for culture, and also encoding some of the shared norms of the culture. In this case, Edward finds that “regular” encodes a different concept than what the designers intended for the Self-Rated Health Measure response of “fair” to mean. I am guessing that among native Spanish speakers, this effect may vary according to a number of factors, including whether the individual speaks English as a second language, their specific region — perhaps even neighborhood or social network.
Practically speaking, this reminds us that the tools we use for measurement in health have to be culturally accurate.