Nitha Mathew Joseph, PhD, RN, associate professor at Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston, spoke to the university community on April 19 at the UTHealth Houston Diversity and Equity Speaker Series on the dangers and health issues South Asian immigrant populations face.
A video of the full presentation can be found online, and is accessible using UTHealth Houston credentials.
South Asians have a two to three times higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and developing heart disease compared to other ethnic groups in the United States.
Cardiometabolic disease is a term used to describe a group of health conditions that includes hypertension (high blood pressure), Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and dyslipidemia (abnormal cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels). These conditions often occur together and are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and other related complications.
People of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, and Sri Lankan descent have a higher risk of cardiometabolic diseases due to several factors. For example, genetics play a role in the increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, lifestyle factors such as a diet high in carbohydrates and saturated fat, low physical activity levels, and high levels of stress can also contribute to the development of these diseases among immigrant populations.
Another significant factor contributing to the higher prevalence of cardiometabolic diseases in South Asians is disparities in health care access and quality. There are often discrepancies in access to health care and preventive services within the South Asian community, particularly for those who are uninsured or underinsured.
“Many South Asians face language barriers when accessing health care services, which can lead to a lack of understanding of the diagnosis and treatment options,” Mathew Joseph said. “Cultural beliefs and stigma surrounding certain diseases, such as mental health issues, can also prevent people from seeking care.”
To live a healthier life, Mathew Joseph referred to a physical activity guideline consisting of at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day for South Asians living in the United States. A goal of 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity is recommended.
“South Asian women have a higher percentage of inactivity (22%-47%) than men (14%-32%),” Mathew Joseph said. “Studies suggest that obligations related to their role as a wife, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law, caregiver, housekeeping, and job responsibilities are barriers that prevent women from the necessary time to participate in leisure-time physical activity.”
To address the high prevalence of cardiometabolic diseases among South Asians in the United States, culturally appropriate prevention and management strategies are necessary, Mathew Joseph said. Tailored lifestyle interventions, health education programs that address cultural beliefs and practices, and improved access to health care services can help manage future conditions.