Research seeks link between Filipino diet and comorbidities
SAN JOSE, California – A graduate student at San Jose State University is conducting a survey to understand how the diet of various generations of Filipino Americans affects their risk for chronic cardiovascular disease.
Regina Reina, 28, a nutrition major at San Jose State University and a 1.5 generation Filipino American, said that historically, health studies have focused on Blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asian Americans. But she noted there has a lack of studies that specifically focus on specific Asian subgroups, though more specific studies have emerged in recent years.
It’s through those disaggregated studies that she has been able to learn that Filipinos are disproportionately affected by diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure – the three risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death worldwide.
“This is a great health burden on Filipino Americans compared to other Asian Americans,” she said. “And I think it’s just important for us to understand why, especially because of this pandemic. If we’re not going to talk about it now, then when?”
The true impact of COVID-19 on Filipino Americans is unknown because of the way data collection systems in the United States aggregate all Asian American subgroups into a single category. But data from the L.A. Times in July found that Filipino Americans at the time accounted for at least 35 percent of COVID-19 deaths in California’s population.
Previous reports have noted that Filipino nurses account for about 30 percent of registered nurse COVID-19 deaths across the country, despite constituting only 4 percent or registered nurses nationwide.
“If you have any of these chronic conditions – diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure – you’re immunocompromised,” she said. “And so we’re at an even more disadvantage there.”
Existing research on the link between the diet of Filipino Americans and chronic health conditions has tended to focus on first-generation community members. Reina’s goal is to build on the existing research particularly by analyzing acculturation in first and second generation Filipino Americans. The aim is to see how diets may differ between various generations, gauging health literacy (one part of the survey asks participants questions based on a nutrition label) and measuring diet quality, she said.
Individuals interested in participating must be Filipino Americans of any citizenship status who are at least 18 years old and have been living in the U.S. since at least Jan. 1, 2020. Participants will be asked to record their food and beverage intake three times per week – two weekdays and one weekend day. Each diet recall is expected to take 15 to 20 minutes for a total of one hour for one week.
Reina said that obtaining three days’ worth of a person’s diet provides the best picture of what their typical diet intake is. She added that people may eat differently on weekends compared to weekdays, which is why the survey asks for diet recalls on two weekdays and Saturday or Sunday.
“I just want to make Filipinos more aware of this health disparity that we have,” she said. “Factors for hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes can be modified by your diet. So it’s preventable.”
Reina said she is looking to collect all survey responses by May or June, which will serve as the basis for her thesis.
“My hope is that somebody else in the nutrition field or nursing field will see our studies and build on that,” she said. “And we’ll just become closer to creating more culturally aligned nutrition programs or diet programs for Filipinos.”
Individuals interested in participating in the survey can do so online.