The category of race is widely used in public health. Although its significance may be clear-cut in some practical situations, an adequate theoretical construct for the concept of race does not exist. Public health appears to lag far behind the other biological sciences in the effort to grapple with the idea of race and its implications for the nature-nurture question. This paper outlines the current anthropological and social perspective on race, and applies this view to problems of disease epidemiology. It is proposed that uncritical use of the traditional biological concept of race has distorted etiological thinking in public health and has proven an obstacle in the development of effective intervention strategies. The pragmatism of medicine and its isolation from social science may account for much of this backwardness.