Author(s): Kamala V. Puram, Executive Director, SEWA-AIFW; Dr. Sayali S. Amarapurkar, PhD, Research Associate, SEWA-AIFW; Dr. Ankita Deka, Assistant Professor, Social Work Department, Augsburg College; Dr. Melissa Kwon, Research Associate, Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI), University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus

Date Authored: February 11, 2014

Picture of a South Asian girl with two women in the background
Photo by Rama George-Alleyne/World Bank (cc license).

The South Asian are the second largest Asian immigrant group in Minnesota with over 44,000 individuals with families of origin from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka as well as South Asians whose past generations originally settled in the Caribbean (Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad, and Tobego). 75% of this population is first generation and 90% of them are originally from India. There is a dearth of research on the health issues faced by this growing population. Federal and state level studies typically aggregate this community with other Asian Pacific Islander groups such as Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, etc. and as a result, there is a limited understanding of the health issues faced specifically by the South Asian community.

SEWA-AIFW (Asian Indian Family Wellness) along with the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) at the University of Minnesota conducted a comprehensive health survey titled Project SAHAT (South Asian Health Assessment Tool) in order to gain a better understanding of the health issues and challenges specific to the South Asian community in Minnesota. By using a snowball sampling method, this study recruited over 1154 self-identified Minnesota South Asian men and women (18 years or older) to participate in a paper-based or online survey that gathered information on health status, lifestyle, health care access, and demographic information.

Participation in the SAHAT survey was representative of the distribution of the South Asian population in Minnesota in terms of age, country of origin, education levels and county wise distribution of South Asian population living in Minnesota.

The major findings of the study are: Chronic issues such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are prevalent in the South Asian community living in Minnesota, with them having higher rates of diabetes (12%) compared to the general population in Minnesota (7%). 50% of the participants were either overweight or obese based on western BMI guidelines. Based on BMI standards for South Asians set by the World Health Organization (WHO) to accurately reflect the risk, Overweight = BMI 23-25 and Obese = BMI of 25 or greater, 73% of participants were either overweight or obese. 38% of survey participants indicated that they exercised daily or 4 to 6 times per week. Walking was the most common form of exercise (76%). Drinking was more prevalent (33%) than smoking (4%) in the South Asian community living in MN.

In terms of preventive health care and health screening behavior, South Asians living in Minnesota were found to have lower rates of wellness checks compared to the general Minnesota population. In terms of satisfaction with their health care visits, 16 % of participants expressed dissatisfaction that the health care providers did not understand the South Asian diet, genetic dispositions, family support structure or religious beliefs.

The results of this study point to some key recommendations for the community organizations to create programming for increasing awareness about chronic health issues prevalent among South Asians; for healthcare professionals working with the South Asian population to create culturally relevant training materials (including diet recommendations based on South Asian diet) to serve their South Asian clients better; and for the legislators to commit funds and resources related to health equity initiative to meet the needs of the underserved and vulnerable South Asians living in Minnesota.

For more information, see the full report and executive summary of the Minnesota South Asian Health Assessment Tool.

Asian Indian Family Wellness (AIFW)

SEWA AIFW (Asian Indian Family Wellness)

3702 E Lake St,
Minneapolis, MN 55402