Physical health

July 28, 2011

Asian American women have the highest life expectancy of any ethnic group in the United States, at 85.8 years. Issues of major concern with Asian and Pacific Islander American women include: higher rates of osteoporosis, hepatitis B infection, and tuberculosis (TB). Lower incidences of screening for breast and cervical cancers are also of concern.


Osteoporosis is more common among women of Asian race than any other. Asian women tend to have small skeletal frames along with low dietary calcium intake, as many traditional Asian diets lack dairy products, given the high prevalence of lactose intolerance among the population. Despite a higher rate of osteoporosis, Asian women have a lower incidence of hip fractures than Caucasian women, but an equal prevalence of vertebral fractures.

Infectious Diseases

Worldwide, the vast majority of those infected with hepatitis B are in Asia. In the United States, many Asian immigrants have hepatitis B and women may transmit the virus to their children during birth. A study found that although Asian and Pacific Islander women accounted for only 3% of births in the United States, they accounted for 48% of births to hepatitis B carriers. TB is the number one infectious killer in the United States, and it is four times more common among Asian Americans than the general population. The risk of TB declines as time spent in the United States increases. HIV infection is rare among Asian and Pacific Islander Americans and accounted for less than 1% of AIDS cases in the United States in 1999.

Breast Cancer and Cervical Cancer

Asian and Pacific Islander American women have the lowest breast cancer death rate of any U.S. group at 13.1 per 100,000. However, an example of the heterogeneity of the population is that Native Hawaiians have the highest breast cancer death rate of any U.S. ethnic group at 37.2 per 100,000. The example of breast cancer in Asian women is often used as evidence of environmental rather than genetic causes of cancer. Breast cancer for Chinese and Japanese women living in Asia is lower than for American women, but with immigration to the United States, breast cancer rates rise. Ethnic Chinese, Japanese, and Pilipina women born in the United States have a breast cancer risk that is 60% higher than their counterparts born in Asia. Preventive screening for breast cancer and cervical cancer among Asian and Pacific Islander American women is a major public health concern as these women tend to have low rates of obtaining mammograms and Pap tests. Interfering with screening may be cultural biases against genital examinations by male physicians and beliefs that these exams might affect virginity. Subsequently, Asian and Pacific Islander American women tend to have more severe cases of cervical cancer due to late diagnosis.

SEE ALSO: Immigrant health, Posttraumatic stress disorder, Suicide


Category: Asian and Pacific Islander