A Johns Hopkins study of Korean Americans found that they have hypertension at rates much higher than other Americans or their counterparts in Korea. Stress, diet and lifestyle changes that occur as a result of immigration can contribute to the high prevalence of cardiovascular disease and stroke, concludes Miyong Kim, a nurse researcher and assistant professor at the School of Nursing.
In her study of 761 Korean Americans between the ages of 18 and 89, published in the November issue of Ethnicity and Disease, Kim found that one-third had high blood pressure and, of those, almost 75 percent were not controlling it. Among Korean Americans age 50 and above, 53 percent had hypertension. About half of the total sample reported not having routine checkups, and 42 percent had no medical insurance.
"Little is known about the health needs of Korean Americans, and culturally relevant services are rarely offered to this population," Kim says. "We have found that recent Asian Pacific immigrants, including Korean Americans, are less aware of hypertension and tend to use more traditional medications. Consequently, they do not know they have high blood pressure, are not taking medication to treat it and are not knowledgeable about hypertension."
The study indicates that the prevalence of hypertension in Korean Americans is 32 percent, which is much higher than the American prevalence rate of 24 percent and the Korean rate of 22 percent. Although some risk factors such as age, gender, education, family history and regular exercise can influence all populations, the study suggests that English-speaking ability is directly related to high blood pressure control among Korean Americans.
"About half of the people in our study rated their English-speaking skill as poor or very poor," Kim says. "This was particularly the case among the older people and recent immigrants. The ability to speak English plays a significant role in whether Korean Americans access the health care system, particularly through medical insurance. Due to their relatively short history of immigration in the United States, many Korean Americans are not well-integrated into the health care system, and are at great risk for mismanaging their chronic illness."
Kim says further studies that identify culturally appropriate strategies of prevention and treatment of high blood pressure in Korean Americans are warranted.
The study was funded by a faculty research grant from the Health Promotion Research Council of the School of Nursing and the Geriatric Medicine-Nursing Fund of the university. Other authors were Kim B. Kim, Hee Soon Juon and Martha N. Hill.