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CDC ramps up study of Asian-American health

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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A complete picture on the health of Asian-Americans can be hard to come by. 

Partly because their relatively small numbers  - roughly 5 percent of the US population - Asians present a challenge for health researchers in getting robust samples for studies. At the same time, though Asians are a very heterogenous group, federal health officials typically clump ethnicities - such as Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Cambodian - as "Asian."

And the fact that most Asians are foreign-born means there are cultural and language hurdles to recruiting participants.

“The refusal rate so far is the highest compared to any other racial groups," said Yinong Chong, a health scientist for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC has been working on improving the quality of data on Asian-American health for the last several years. This past week saw the release of a report devoted to Asian-American health, specifically around weight, hypertension and cholesterol.

The results come from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a program that has been tracking Americans' health since the 1960's and helps to inform health policy and programs.

To ensure there was a large-enough sample size, the CDC boosted recruiting in states with the biggest Asian populations such as California, Chong said. The agency translated outreach materials about the program into multiple Asian languages, and provided interpreters.

"And also we have done more than usual amount of media to emphasize not only the significance of the study but it's also a contribution to the well-being of our own community," Chong said. 

Health educators in the Asian-American community welcomed the new report, and its added detail.

"I think this is a really good move in the right direction," said Scott Chan, program director for the Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance.

He’s pleased the study distinguishes between foreign-born and US-born Asians. The data show, for example, that foreign-born Asians have a lower body mass index average. On the other hand, they also have lower levels of HDL, a type of cholesterol that may reduce risk of health disease.

But Chan noticed the data were not differentiated by ethnicity, which would be helpful to him as an educator.

"In the Filipino community and the Cambodian community, we know there are higher obesity rates there, but this data set doesn’t necessarily say that," Chan said.

The more data he has, Chan said, the better he can target his health strategies.