Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Health of Asian Immigrants Declines Over Time in the United States

Yvonne Lee:

In recent years prevalence rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer has been increasing among Asian Americans. So far, there has been very limited research on the diet of Asian Americans’ and the impact on their health. As a result, the California Department of Health and the UCLA School of Public Health conducted a joint study on Asian Americans’ diet and exercise habits. It examines the differences between the Asian and American diet.

The study focuses on heavily Asian populated areas in San Francisco and Los Angeles examining first generation Chinese, Vietnamese and Hmong. These groups make up the fast growing Asian segment in California, nearly 20 percent of the state’s population.

According to Tu-Uyen Ngoc Nguyen, UCLA School of Public Health doctorate researcher, the traditional Asian diet includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, but as the first generation of immigrants become immersed in mainstream American life, they become influenced by the American dietary culture. As a result, they eat more fast food and less home cooking Though the interviewees hoped they could maintain their traditional dietary habits, because of convenience and lack of information on health or diet concepts, they could not.

As a result researchers stressed the importance of communicating and promoting the idea of healthy eating, dietary moderation and daily exercise to the Asian population.

After the survey, Nguyen believes Asian parents, teachers and community health organizations ought to strengthen counseling on the importance and advantage of traditional Asian dietary practices. In general he said that Asian food is healthier than American food. And only by starting with their own home can Asians pass the concept of traditional healthy diet to the next generation.

Nguyen also says the message may be different according to each individual Asian ethnic group, which may have different dietary practices and beliefs. Through this process children can also learn how to respect and recognize their diverse culture.

She pointed out that the California Department of Health recommends nine portions of fruits and vegetables a day, an increase from five portions. In addition it recommends some form of daily exercise for 90 minutes a day, up from 30 minutes. Nguyen explained some might think it is hard to achieve the five portions of vegetables and fruits. But in fact, one apple equals two portions and a plate of greens equals four portions.

Karen Lam with the Kai Ming Head Start program, which contributed to the survey, pointed out children in Asia have a higher rate of exercise compared to American children. This is because, she says, in Asian countries there are more opportunities to walk when they attend school or shop. But after they immigrate to America, a majority of Asian children often ride in a car instead of walking, thus decreasing their chances for daily exercise. For their children’s health, parents ought to pay attention to their children’s exercise, not only their children’s school achievement, she says.

In addition researchers say parents must also avoid buying junk food for their children. This can be difficult because of the prevalence of television advertising for fast food companies.

Despite healthier food available from home, many students also participate in school lunch programs which may not offer enough healthy food choices. For example, many schools sell pizzas, hamburgers and sodas. In order to be effective in promoting healthy dietary practices, schools and parents must take a joint approach.

A representative from Asian Perinatal Services, Asian family advocates, said when talking to parents, they discovered the parent’s eating habit had a direct impact on their children. If some parents don’t eat salad their children also did not eat salad. They may convey the wrong message that raw food is unsanitary and instead emphasize that food needs to be cooked before eating. At the same time vegetables lose vitamins if it is overly cooked.

It seems that immigration even causes problems for the immigrants themselves.


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