Subjective health (SH) status serves as a measure of health in many studies of health-related issues as it is a good predictor of mortality, morbidity, and use of health services. The measure is used in many population groups. However, the degree to which it measures the same condition in different ethnic groups is not clear. Within Israel's first National Health and Nutrition Survey (MABAT) conducted during 1999-2001, face-to-face interviews were held with 3222 Israeli interviewees, 2379 Jews and 843 Arabs, aged between 25-64 years. Respondents reported their SH, co-morbidity, and other socioeconomic characteristics. Arabs reported higher levels of SH than Jews. In logistic regression analysis, co-morbidity was a much stronger correlate of poorer SH in the Arab than in the Jewish population. The association between socioeconomic variables depended on ethnic group and sex. The findings indicate that SH in Jews and Arabs does not necessarily have the same meaning in relation to objective measures of health, and caution should be exercised in the use of this measure in different population groups with different cultures. Arabs tend to evaluate health better than Jews even though life expectancy is lower and morbidity and mortality are higher in the former population group. Yet diagnosis of a disease increases the frequency of reporting lower SH, more in Arabs than in Jews.