A survey of two groups of Pacific Islanders draws comparisons between the health of two populations of Pacific Islanders residing in California, revealing they lag behind the state in several key areas of health. Led by Sela Panapasa, a scientist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, a group of researchers administered surveys to 240 Samoan and Tongan households in California. They included a companion survey for adolescents, ages 13 to 17, living in the home.
The survey found that both Samoans and Tongans had higher rates of hypertension than Californians at large, smoked at about four times the rate of Californians, were less likely to have health insurance, and used available health care services at lower rates, relying heavily on emergency room care.
The researchers found that about 61 percent of Samoans and nearly 53 percent of Tongans reported having health insurance compared to 79 percent of Californians. Both groups also tended to delay medical care—likely because the groups were underinsured. At 36 percent for Samoans and 26.5 percent for Tongans, both groups were highly likely to visit the emergency room for health care.
The report also provided a more nuanced view of high blood pressure among Pacific Islanders. Previously, research showed low rates of hypertension among Pacific Islanders—much lower than the United States as a whole, and on par with rates in California. But these lower rates among Pacific Islanders may be because of underdiagnosis rather than good health, according to Panapasa.
The gap between reported hypertension and the new findings from the survey may be caused by the practice of aggregating the health information collected across more than 20 Pacific Islanders ethnicities into a single measure, according to Panapasa. In fact, until 1997, the federal Office of Management and Budget grouped data collection such as health statistics for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders under the same category.
“These are very distinct groups. Each has its own culture, language and unique history,” Panapasa said. “Going in with this one-size-fits-all attitude is not going to work.” Panapasa hopes the report will allow health care providers to develop more targeted approaches to help improve health behaviors among these underserved populations.
Read more on UMich.edu.