Wednesday, December 14, 2011

First-ever Utah Study Uncovers Pacific Islander Health Disparities

(Salt Lake City, UT) – The Utah Department of Health (UDOH) recently completed its first statewide health survey conducted in three languages, interviewing 605 adult Utah Pacific Islanders in English, Tongan, and Samoan. This is likely the first study of its kind addressing mainland Pacific Islanders in the United States.
The UDOH Office of Health Disparities Reduction (OHD) initiated the study because Utah death certificates indicate Pacific Islanders had unusually high rates of infant mortality and diabetes-related death. 
“We wanted to know more about their risk factors, but our usual statewide surveys didn’t reach enough Pacific Islanders to give us the information we needed,” explained April Young Bennett, OHD, UDOH. 
The survey found higher rates of diabetes (13.7%, or 1 in 7), obesity (50.9%), and high blood pressure (25.2%) among Utah Pacific Islanders than previously estimated. The Utah Pacific Islander rates for these conditions exceeded the statewide prevalence rates: 6.5% for diabetes, 24.8% for obesity and 23.1% for high blood pressure.
“We may have underestimated in the past because we never interviewed Samoan and Tongan speakers before,” Bennett suggested.  Pacific Islanders interviewed in Tongan or Samoan had higher rates of these conditions than Pacific Islanders interviewed in English.
Health officials are particularly concerned about the obesity rate among Utah Pacific Islanders.  Obesity increases the risk for diabetes and obese women are less likely to have healthy pregnancies.
“Some research does suggest that Pacific Islanders can be healthy at a slightly larger size than Caucasians,” said Bennett.  “We took that into consideration and used a special Body Mass Index scale designed for the unique Pacific Islander body type.  We still found that about half of Utah Pacific Islander adults were obese.”
Utah Pacific Islanders were involved in all stages of survey implementation: building the questionnaire, pilot-testing, translation, survey promotion, and interviewing respondents.
“I commend the investigators on welcoming the involvement and feedback of Pacific Islander community leaders, consultants, and data collectors throughout the development of this study,” said Jacob Fitisemanu, a member of the Healthcare Access for Minorities Advisory Board who participated in the study design. 
“It is important to tailor qualitative and quantitative public health assessments to address the needs of culturally diverse groups,” added Dulce Díez, Manager, OHD, UDOH.
Community members also helped OHD create new health videos designed for Utah Pacific Islanders in English, Tongan, and Samoan. OHD is distributing the videos to community-based organizations, churches, health care organizations, and individuals to promote obesity prevention, healthy pregnancies, and preventive health care.  (Versions are available for African Americans and Hispanics as well.) 
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Media Contact:
April Young Bennett