Abstract Background The amount of available and potentially significant data describing study subjects is ever growing with the introduction and integration of different registries and data banks. The single specific attribute of these data are not always necessary; more often, membership to a specific group (e.g. diet, social ‘bubble’, living area) is enough to build a successful machine learning or data mining model without overfitting it. Therefore, in this article we propose an approach to building taxonomies using clustering to replace detailed data from large heterogenous data sets from different sources, while improving interpretability. We used the GISTAR study data base that holds exhaustive self-assessment questionnaire data to demonstrate this approach in the task of differentiating between H. pylori positive and negative study participants, and assessing their potential risk factors. We have compared the results of taxonomy-based classification to the results of classification using raw data. Results Evaluation of our approach was carried out using 6 classification algorithms that induce rule-based or tree-based classifiers. The taxonomy-based classification results show no significant loss in information, with similar and up to 2.5% better classification accuracy. Information held by 10 and more attributes can be replaced by one attribute demonstrating membership to a cluster in a hierarchy at a specific cut. The clusters created this way can be easily interpreted by researchers (doctors, epidemiologists) and describe the co-occurring features in the group, which is significant for the specific task. Conclusions While there are always features and measurements that must be used in data analysis as they are, the use of taxonomies for the description of study subjects in parallel allows using membership to specific naturally occurring groups and their impact on an outcome. This can decrease the risk of overfitting (picking attributes and values specific to the training set without explaining the underlying conditions), improve the accuracy of the models, and improve privacy protection of study participants by decreasing the amount of specific information used to identify the individual.