“Health disparities are differences in the incidence, prevalence, mortality, and burden of diseases and other adverse health conditions that exist among specific population groups in the United States.”
– National Institutes of Health
Americans have enjoyed improved health and longer lives during the latter part of the 20th century into the 21st century. However, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), who represent more than 25 percent of the U.S. population, continue to experience striking health disparities, including shorter life expectancy and higher rates of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, substance abuse, and infant mortality and low birth weight. Although AAPIs have long been portrayed as a “model minority” with few major problems, the subgroups of AAPIs differ widely in death and disease rates, including from breast cancer and other conditions such as heart disease, and stand to benefit strongly from culturally appropriate care.
Aggregated data across ethnic groups often masks serious health problems and we must move beyond generalizations to address the real health needs in diverse communities. The Asian population grew faster than any other major race group between 2000 and 2010. The Asian alone population increased by 43% between 2000 and 2010, more than any other major race group and was the second largest numeric change (4.4 million), growing from 10.2 million in 2000 to 14.7 million in 2010. If these rapid growth trends continue, Asian Americans are expected to number well over 35 million by 2050. Income, education, access to health care, and language barriers all influence health and raising awareness of these issues and the lack of data, particularly for AAPIs is instrumental to the focus on increasing health equity for vulnerable immigrants and refugees across the country.
FACTS ABOUT HEALTH DISPARITIES IN AAPIs:
Breast Cancer: AAPI women are the only ethnic group for which cancer far outweighs heart disease as the leading cause of death. Breast cancer has the highest incidence and is the second leading cause of cancer death in these women, Lin Gomez reports. These findings contradict the popular perception that the burden of breast cancer is universally low among AAPI women.
Lung Cancer: Among Asian American men, lung and bronchial cancer are the leading causes of death. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found large reductions in smoking among Vietnamese, Cambodian, and several other Asian ethnicities.
Colorectal Cancer: All Americans over age 50 should be screened for colorectal cancer (CRC). Yet Vietnamese Americans have low rates of screening for CRC compared to other AAPIs and Whites.
Hepatitis B & Liver Cancer: 1 in 10 to 12 AAPIs is chronically infected with Hepatitis B. Of the 1.5 million individuals with chronic hepatitis B in the United States, nearly half are of Asian descent. About 80% of all hepatitis B cases result in liver cancer. Vietnamese men have the highest rate of liver cancer, usually caused by chronic hepatitis B infection.
Diabetes: About 40% of adults ages 40 to 74 (or 41 million people) have pre-diabetes, a condition that raises a person’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Studies show that AAPIs who are overweight are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, and some groups, including Filipinos, and Japanese Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes as white residents of similar age.
HIV/AIDS: The total number of reported AIDS cases has declined over the past five years for the White population, however it has continued to increase for AAPIs. While skyrocketing HIV infection rates have pushed African American and Latino communities to demand culturally appropriate education, AAPIs have yet to secure significant public funding or attention to address the spread of HIV in their communities. It is a complicated dynamic when you’re talking about priorities for funding of HIV/AIDS. More progress is needed toward the greater inclusion of AAPI populations in government programs and funding. If Americans don’t start paying attention to the spread of HIV/AIDS in each of our country’s unique cultural communities — as well as to the epidemic’s spread beyond our borders — then HIV promises to ravage America for years to come.