Monday, March 22, 2004

Nurses convene to address
ethnicity’s effects on health

Hawaii research into the use of traditional Chinese medicine to manage diabetes, the health effects of Filipino grandparents caring for grandchildren and the "tobacco environment" in native Hawaiian communities is part of a national look into health disparities.

About 120 professionals from the United States, Canada and other countries discussed methods to remedy health disparities last week at the 17th annual Pacific Nursing Research Conference at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Conference co-chairwoman Jillian Inouye, a professor and graduate chair in the University of Hawaii-Manoa School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene, said the nurses are concerned not only about disparities between ethnic groups, but also with vulnerable populations such as substance abusers and disabled people, and in oral and mental health as well as physical health.

A collaboration between the University of Washington and UH-Manoa schools of nursing is studying methods of correcting the disparities.

The schools are partners in the Center for the Advancement of Health Disparities Research, one of eight centers funded in the United States by the National Institute for Nursing Research.

The University of Washington invited Hawaii to collaborate on the center as an extension of a partnership in women's health research, said Bobbie Berkowitz, professor and chairwoman at the UW Department of Psychosocial and Community Health.

Berkowitz, who is also disparities center director, said the center has already attracted new investigators to the field, especially minority nurses.

The program began in 2002 and is funded until 2007, she said. It is hoped to have enough data by then to compete for larger grants and projects, she said. Grants total more than $4 million so far.

Marilyn McCubbin, director of the Hawaii health disparities program, said researchers are looking at a number of issues, including:

» Promoting equal access to long-term care among different ethnic groups.

» Korean-American parenting and children's problem behaviors.

» Assessing the health benefits, physical activity and functioning of elderly Filipinos.

» Intergenerational relations, family functioning and mental health in Filipino immigrant families.

» Cultural acceptability of a family center program for Asian-American adolescents with schizophrenia.

In addition, researchers said, poor dental health has a relationship with chronic diseases such as diabetes and kidney and cardiovascular disease.

Hawaii has "significantly high decay rates," said Dr. Mark Greer, chief of the state Dental Health Division, citing cultural values and lack of fluoride in public water as contributing factors.

Sodas, canned juices and ethnic foods with sugar also are responsible, said Carolyn Kuba, UH dental hygiene department chairwoman.

The highest decay rates are among native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders and Filipinos, he said.


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