Asian American Studies

Edith Chen Receives NIH Grant For Her Work On the Immigrant Health Paradox

March 2, 2018

Dr. Edith Chen has received a large NIH grant for her project entitled, “Is Assimilation Costing Asian Americans Their Health? Type 2 Diabetes in California's Asian American Populations.” This was preceded by an NIH-funded BUILD PODER pilot project about the epidemiological paradox, also known as the immigrant health paradox.

Edith Chen speaking at a podium

Article below reproduced from CSUN Magazine

The epidemiological paradox, also known as the immigrant health paradox, refers to the finding that Latina and Latino immigrants have equally good or even better health outcomes than whites. According to research, the more acculturated Latina and Latino immigrants were, the less healthy they became. Two CSUN professors are researching if the same paradox also applies to Asian immigrants in California.

Asian-American studies professor Edith Wen-Chu Chen and health sciences professor Lawrence Chu have been examining whether acculturation puts Asian-Americans at higher risk for health disparities — and if they are more prone to certain diseases.

“There are health researchers who report general findings about Asian-Americans, but they know little about the history, current struggles and issues facing the different Asian-American populations — and there are other social science-trained researchers who study Asian-Americans that know a lot about the population, but they are not involved in health research,” Chen said. “That’s where the coming together of both of our disciplines makes this project so special.”

According to the Health Wealth Gradient, an equation used by sociologists and health scientists, wealthier people live healthier lifestyles than people from disadvantaged communities, Chu said.

“It has a lot to do with stress levels and how people who are affluent can buy healthy foods, have healthier food options, live in safer communities, have better schools and so on,” Chu added. “That, in turn, leads to less stress, which, in turn, leads to healthier lifestyles and healthier outcomes.”

Yet, research has indicated that Mexican immigrants, in particular, who usually have lower incomes and therefore less access to healthcare, were healthier in terms of average life expectancy and had healthier babies than people born in the U.S. This pattern is contrary to the Health Wealth Gradient, Chen explained.

“There is quite a body of research on the immigrant health paradox on Mexican-Americans, but this paradox has not been deeply examined or systematically researched among Asian-Americans,” Chu said, adding that the research is particularly difficult because most data sets combine all Asian populations into one group. “There are so many subsets of ethnicities for Asians, and they are all different in their immigrant experiences and what they might be at risk for in terms of diseases and injuries.”

The pair’s research is based on the evaluation of secondary data from the California Health Interview Survey. Prior research studies have established that Asian-Americans are generally more prone to diabetes and obesity than other populations.

“Asian-Americans are more likely to have diabetes at similar BMIs (Body Mass Index) to whites, and they are more likely to have Type 2 diabetes at normal BMIs compared to whites,” Chen said. “Our question is: What is specific about the Asian-American experience that can put them at risk for Type 2 diabetes and obesity?”

“Also, are there some groups within the Asian- American community that are more at risk for diabetes and obesity than others?” Chu added. “And if so, are there unique risk factors among these groups that can explain that?”

Chen and Chu are continuing their research, involving students from CSUN’s BUILD PODER undergraduate research training program (for more on the program, see page 30). The project is supported by BUILD PODER and CSUN’s Research Infrastructure in Minority Institutions program. —Cati Mayer