Asian immigrants likely to see blood pressure rise

May 13, 2002

The longer Asian immigrants have lived in North America, the more likely they are to have high blood pressure, according to a new study of Canadian national data.

Previous studies have shown that immigrants to Western countries have higher rates of heart diseases and heart risk factors than their peers who don't emigrate. This study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, shows that one of those risk factors, hypertension, grows more common the longer Asian immigrants live in North America.

"Differences in hypertension due to acculturation status may be a result of changes in traditional lifestyles and dietary practices, including meal patterns and food choices," says lead author Mark S. Kaplan, Dr.P.H., of the School of Community Health at Portland State University.

Asian immigrants who lived in Canada for four or fewer years had a prevalence of hypertension below 3 percent, compared with the more than 7 percent with hypertension among immigrants who had lived in the West five years to nine years. Ten or more years of residence related to more than 13 percent prevalence of hypertension, the researchers report.

The study included data on nearly 2,000 Asian immigrants surveyed as part of the 1996-1997 Canadian National Population Health Survey. The prevalence of hypertension in people over the age of 20 was 10 percent across the entire survey.

The study also showed that overweight or psychologically distressed immigrants had about double the risk of hypertension compared to their peers. These factors, as well as age, sex, education status, smoking and drinking status, physical activity, health status and access to health care, were controlled for in determining the effects of duration of residence on hypertension.

One weakness of the study is that the hypertension rates are based on survey respondents' answers to a question about whether they had been diagnosed with the condition, rather than actually taking blood pressure measurements, says Kaplan. He added that the results should be interpreted with caution.

"The relationship between acculturation and health status is a complex one," he says. "One firm conclusion that can be drawn from our study is that there is a clear pattern in the prevalence of hypertension that follows a timeline of cultural adaptation."
The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

This article is distributed by the Health Behavior News Service of the Center for the Advancement of Health, a non-profit organization that promotes greater understanding of the psychological, behavioral, social and environmental determinants of health. The Center advocates the highest quality research and communicates it to the medical community and the public.

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