Shining the Light on Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Health

Guest Post by Kathy Ko Chin and Dr. Winston Tseng

In 1985, Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret M. Heckler’s landmark report, Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health, shined a light on some of the pervasive and concerning disparities in health and health care experienced by racial and ethnic minorities. Yet, this report did not include any disparities among Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AAs and NHPIs) in aggregate.

finaldraft2This exclusion perpetuated the model minority myth, and excluded vulnerable constituents of these populations (e.g., low income, immigrant, and limited English proficient populations). Thirty years later, when it comes to researching, understanding, and combating disparities amongst American’s fastest growing racial groups—AAs and NHPIs—we are still working our way further into the light.

The Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum is pleased to partner with Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved for a special supplement (Volume 26, Number 2, May 2015 Supplement) called “Shining the Light on Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Health.” The supplement provides research and scholarship on new community initiatives focused on tackling health challenges within AA and NHPI communities. With populations tracing their heritage to more than 50 different countries and speaking more than 100 different languages, health and health care needs are varied.

This supplement issue includes “heroes and great ideas,” “original papers,” “reports from the field,” and “literature reviews” on a number of emerging health issues impacting AAs and NHPIs, focusing on specific populations including immigrants, indigenous populations, and children, and health issues including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, suicide, depression, cancer screening, costs of health care, occupational health, and community health workers.

The research on childhood obesity is of particular interest as the U.S. responds to this growing epidemic. All too often, AAs and NHPIs are not included in these mainstream conversations. The issue features first-of-its-kind research from Yvette C. Paulino and colleagues in Guam on the burden of childhood obesity in public schools. Marie Kainoa Fialkowski and colleagues from Hawaii and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Region examine opportunities to combat high rates of obesity and non-communicable diseases and report on the Children’s Healthy Living Training Program, a leading model to address Pacific Islander childhood obesity prevention and improve the health and futures of these populations. This issue also features the first ever systematic literature review of childhood obesity among Asian Americans.

Litigation around health care access for COFA Migrants—migrants from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Republic of Palau, and Federated States of Micronesia—has brought the health care needs of these communities to the attention of states like Hawaii. As Megan Kiyomi Inada Hagiwara and colleagues note, the federal government has not met its legal obligation to provide health care to their populations in exchange for military use of their jurisdictions during war times. Health advocates provide insightful commentary on how the Micronesian migrant community in Hawaii is responding to the challenge and trying to change policies that block these populations from the health care they are entitled to and need.

In addition to taking a deep-dive on these emerging health issues, the issue features a tribute to former U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh, a true leader in health equity, and an inspiring story by Ninez A. Ponce and colleagues about the how AA and NHPI community champions and leading public-private partnerships tackled the challenges of data equity at the national level after the release of the 1985 report.

While the health needs of AA and NHPI communities are various, it is clear that we can make further progress by using the collected research and scholarship as our guiding lights to better define and raise awareness about the key health disparities and reach and serve these communities, particularly the most vulnerable segments. Combined with continued research into emerging health issues like childhood obesity, we are confident that all Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders can look forward to healthier futures.

Kathy Ko Chin is the president and CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum.

Winston Tseng is a research sociologist and lecturer of Community Health and Human Development at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health and guest editor of the May 2015 special supplement.