Posted October 6, 2014

Researchers target diet to reduce chronic disease in Asian Americans

Temple University researchers target diet to reduce chronic disease in Asian Americans.

Although low-income Asian Americans are at a high risk for diabetes, hypertension, heart attack and stroke, they are under a misconception that their diet is healthy and not a risk factor for these chronic diseases.

Now, researchers from Temple University’s Center for Asian Health (CAH) will use a $1.4 million Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant to create awareness, provide education, and increase access to healthy food and beverage options in Philadelphia’s low-income Asian-American community. Temple is the only Pennsylvania institution to receive a REACH grant, awarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year.

The ultimate goal of the project—called Improving Diets with an Ecological Approach for Lifestyle (IDEAL) in Asian American Communities—is to reduce the incidence and prevalence of these chronic diseases among Asian Americans, who are 60 percent more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites and for whom heart disease is the second-leading cause of death, said Grace Ma, professor of public health in Temple’s College of Health Professions and Social Work, director of CAH and the grant’s principal investigator.

“Most Asian community members do not really perceive that their diet needs to be improved, because they don’t recognize that the risk factors associated with these diseases—diabetes, hypertension, heart attack and stroke—can be modified through diet,” said Ma.

Ma and CAH have previously partnered with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to focus on reducing sodium levels in takeout food from Chinese restaurants. But, she noted, the majority of consumers of these foods are African Americans and Hispanics, not Asian Americans.

Through this three-year REACH grant, the Temple researchers will target reducing salt, carbohydrates and the use of cooking oil as a way of getting members of the Asian community—including Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans and Filipinos living in Philadelphia’s eight-county region—to modify and improve their diet, thus lowering the risk factors involved in those diseases.

The researchers will work with Asian community food markets, community organizations, churches, senior centers, individual families and Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health as part of their community-based outreach campaign and interventions.

A CDC program that began in 1999, the REACH award focuses on racial and ethnic communities experiencing health disparities. It is part of a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) initiative to support public health efforts to reduce chronic diseases, promote healthier lifestyles, reduce health disparities and control healthcare spending. Overall, HHS awarded $35 million this year in new grant awards to 49 local health agencies.