By Amanda Hinton

In the United States, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial/ethnic group and are expected to become the largest immigrant group by 2055. It is generally believed that Asians are some of the healthiest Americans with high socioeconomic statuses. However, this narrative lacks nuance and an understanding of the diversity existing within Asian American communities. Asian Americans are not a single group, they are heterogeneous and made up of various subgroups with different needs. This narrative is further perpetuated by the aggregation of data in research pertaining to Asian Americans.

Traditionally, Asians are grouped together in survey data into a single group with no options to further categorize by ethnicity. The data already available on Asian Americans are already scarce but the aggregation of it further masks the differences between subgroups. Data aggregation often leads to errors in the interpretation of the findings resulting in policies that may not be effective for all subgroups of Asians. It is difficult for policymakers to understand and tangibly see the disparities enduring across groups when data are aggregated. We must acknowledge the diversity that exists in the Asian American community and seek to conduct research that incorporates this knowledge.

Research has uncovered meaningful differences between Asian American subgroups in the prevalence of disease. When researchers disaggregate data and separate groups by ethnicity, differences in disease burden and health disparities between groups emerge. Researchers found that Filipinos and South Asians had a higher prevalence of diabetes and cardiovascular conditions compared to East Asians (Chinese, Koreans, Southeast Asians, and Japanese). For all Asians, the standardized prevalence estimate of diabetes was 23.1 percent. But when compared to Filipinos alone, there is a difference of almost 8 percentage points. Filipinos’ standardized prevalence estimate of diabetes was 31.9 percent. In comparison, Chinese respondents had a 15.6 percent standardized prevalence estimate. These prevalence estimates vary greatly between groups and demonstrate the need for the disaggregation of data to create meaningful improvements in health policy.

To ensure that we are developing effective policies, policymakers must improve data collection and reporting. Data collection should be standardized and cease the usage of broadly aggregated data. While some grouping of data can be helpful for researchers to see an overall view of findings, it is insufficient to create policies based on this high-level overview where you do not get the full picture. Researchers need to start incorporating subgroup categories in their research. These additional categories indeed take more time and resources to complete, but the outcomes in data are much richer and provide meaningful differences crucial to policy making. Utilizing electronic health records could be one way of easily capturing data on ethnicity and providing researchers with accurate data.

Additionally, research organizations need to offer their surveys in more languages. Currently, the U.S. Census Bureau is the only organization consistently conducting its surveys in languages other than English and Spanish. Doing so will reduce barriers for Asian Americans (and other ethnic groups around the country) to participate in research. Taking steps like these will put researchers and policymakers on the right path to developing equitable policies that truly address health disparities Asian Americans face and ultimately improve health outcomes for all subgroups.