Asian American Health Concerns

Similar to other communities of color, there exist tremendous disparities in health outcomes and indicators among the Asian American community.  Disproportionate burdens of health conditions affecting this population across the United States include cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hepatitis B, and osteoporosis.

National-level data indicate that cancer is the leading cause of death among Asian Americans. In particular, Asian Americans have the highest rates of liver and stomach cancers. They are nearly three times more likely to develop liver cancer than non-Hispanic whites and twice as likely to develop stomach cancer. Asian Americans account for approximately half of the chronic hepatitis B cases (a precursor to liver disease and cancer) in the United States, are five times more likely than the U.S. population to contract tuberculosis, and are less likely to seek out cancer screening services than other ethnic groups.

Though there is a scarcity of data disaggregated by ethnic subgroups, there are some key statistics to note of the population as a whole:

Cancer

  • Asian Americans are the only segment of the U.S. population to suffer cancer as the leading cause of death.
  • Asian American women have the lowest breast cancer screening rate among any segment of the population and are typically diagnosed at a later stage compared to other racial and ethnic groups.
  • When Asian women migrate to the U.S., their risk of developing breast cancer increases up to six-fold. Asian immigrant women living in the U.S. for as little as a decade had an 80 percent higher risk of breast cancer than new immigrants.
  • Asian Americans have the highest rates of liver and stomach cancers and are nearly 3 times more likely to develop liver cancer than non-Hispanic whites.
  • Asian Americans are twice as likely to die from stomach cancer as compared to the non-Hispanic white population and nearly 2.5 times more likely to die of liver cancer.

Cardiovascular Disease

  • Among Asians age 18 and older, 5.6 % have heart disease, 3.8 % have congenital heart disease, 16.1% have hypertension and 1.8 % has had a stroke (NHIS 2003, CDC/NCHS).

Diabetes

  • An estimated 7.5% of Asian Americans have diabetes, and are more likely to develop type-2 diabetes (compared to non-Hispanic whites) despite having lower body weight.
  • Adjusted for age, sex, and body mass index, Asian American prevalence of diabetes is 60% higher than non-Hispanic whites.

Hepatitis B

  • Though Asian Americans represent only 4.5% of the population, they account for more than half of the estimated 1.3-1.5 million chronic hepatitis B cases in the United States.
    • Korean Americans are 8 times more likely than non-white males to develop chronic hepatitis B.
    • Vietnamese Americans are 13 times more likely than non-white males to develop chronic hepatitis B.
    • Chinese Americans are 6 times more likely than non-white males to develop chronic hepatitis B.
  • The hepatitis B-related death rate among Asian Americans is 7 times greater than the rate among the white population.

Osteoporosis

  • Asian women run a high risk of developing osteoporosis.  The average intake of calcium—a nutrient essential to bone health—among Asian women is estimated to be half that of Western population groups.

Domestic Violence

  • 13% of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women have experienced physical assault in their lifetime.
  • According to a 2000-2001 survey of Asian American women in the Washington DC metro area, 81.1% of women reported experiencing at least one form of intimate partner abuse—emotional, physical, etc.—in the past year, while 32% experienced physical or sexual abuse at least occasionally.

Mental Health

  • Asian American adolescent girls reportedly have the highest rates of depressive symptoms compared to girls of other ethnicities.
  • Asian Americans are one quarter as likely as whites, and half as likely as African Americans and Hispanic Americans to seek mental health services.

Tobacco

  • Asian American youth—grades 7 through 12—have shown the greatest increase in smoking rates among racial and ethnic groups in their age group.
  • Among all ethnic groups, Asian Americans were least likely (26%) to have exposure to advertisements for Maryland’s tobacco cessation helpline 1-800-QUIT-NOW.