Published: 11/27/2022

More than 40 distinct and diverse ethnic groups are often lumped together into the catch-all categories of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders for the purposes of medical research. This has resulted in inaccurate or incomplete findings that hamper efforts to provide effective healthcare.

Research on the groups comprising these communities, commonly referred to by the acronyms AsA and NHPI, is urgently needed to eliminate disparities and promote health equity in these populations. This was the key finding of a group of researchers convened by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and 8 other National Institutes of Health (NIH) institutes. A summary of findings from their multidisciplinary workshop, “Identifying Research Opportunities for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Health,” was published in Annals of Internal Medicine in January 2022.

“Despite significant cultural, demographic, linguistic, and socioeconomic differences among these groups, data for them are often aggregated, which can mask critical health disparities,” said Global Health Faculty Fellow Dr. Ann Hsing, corresponding author.


“Despite significant cultural, demographic, linguistic, and socioeconomic differences among these groups, data for them are often aggregated, which can mask critical health disparities”

Dr. Ann Hsing, Global Health Faculty Fellow and corresponding author.

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AsA and NHPI communities comprise 7.7% of the U.S. population, and AsA have had the fastest growth rate since 2010. Yet the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has invested only 0.17% of its budget on AsA and NHPI research between 1992 and 2018.

To address these disparities, in March 2021, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, in partnership with 8 other NIH institutes, convened a multidisciplinary workshop to review current research, knowledge gaps, opportunities, barriers, and approaches for prevention research for AsA and NHPI populations. The workshop covered 5 domains: 1) sociocultural, environmental, psychological health, and lifestyle dimensions; 2) metabolic disorders; 3) cardiovascular and lung diseases; 4) cancer; and 5) cognitive function and healthy aging.

Two recurring themes emerged: very limited data on epidemiology, risk factors, and outcomes for most conditions, and the aggregation of data across subgroups. This aggregation can hide important variations in risk factors and disease occurrence.

Photo Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash.com

The group recommended numerous approaches for future research, including:

  • Leveraging the vast phenotypic differences among AsA and NHPI groups to inform prevention efforts and intervention strategies.
  • Developing collaborations with community partners
  • Investing in infrastructure support for cohort studies
  • Enhancing existing data sources to enable data disaggregation
  • Incorporating the latest technologies to improve measurement

“It is essential to use community-engaged approaches and partner with community organizations to effectively study health issues that reflect community priorities,” Hsing said.

The full publication is available online at https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.7326/M21-3729.

Banner photo by Mi Pham, Unsplash