In the first study to detail the health of Pacific Islanders living in the United States, University of Michigan researchers have found alarmingly high rates of obesity and smoking.
The preliminary findings were presented Sept. 24 at a conference in Los Angeles on health disparities among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
"Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are the second fastest growing minority population in the U.S.," said Sela Panapasa, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research and principal investigator of the Pacific Islander Health Study. "But they are often underrepresented in national surveys.
"This is the first scientific study to assess the health, well-being and health care use of two subgroups of this important population -- Samoans and Tongans. Our hope is that this will lead to the development of evidence-based interventions and policies to improve the health of these groups, and also serve as a model for similar studies of other subgroups of this population."
For the study, the research team interviewed a random sample of 239 California households in 2011 and 2012. Half were Tongans living in the San Mateo area and half were Samoans living in the Los Angeles area. Trained Samoan and Tongan interviewers collected information on a wide range of health conditions and health behaviors among adults and adolescents in the households.
Among the key preliminary findings:
"By identifying the problem areas facing specific Pacific Islander communities, we can finally begin to chart a course to develop interventions that will help to reduce these health disparities and build healthy communities," Panapasa said.
Among Panapasa's collaborators on the study are U-M researchers James Jackson, Cleopatra Caldwell, Steven Heeringa, and James McNally, and Harvard University researcher David Williams.
Funding for the Pacific Islander Health Study was provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, the Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.
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