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Rutgers expert discusses prevalence of cardiovascular disease for Asian Indian population

A new study by researchers at the Center for Community Health Partnerships (CCHP) examined the disproportionate rate of cardiovascular disease in the Asian Indian population. – Photo by jesse orrico / Unsplash

The University's Center for Community Health Partnerships (CCHP) recently received grant approval and funding to review initiatives that support cardiovascular health for New Jersey's Asian Indian population.

Karen D'Alonzo, director of the CCHP and an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing, said this research examines the underlying causes of cardiovascular disease among Asian Indian immigrants.

She said Asian Indians, the largest immigrant population in New Jersey, have disproportionately higher rates of premature cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality compared to other populations.

This study seeks to examine the impact of various factors, including family history, dietary habits, physical activity and stress, that are associated with cultural assimilation, D'Alonzo said.

She also said she hopes the new grant funding will allow the CCHP's researchers to gather preliminary data to use for a larger study next year.

In addition to studying cardiovascular disease, this research would explore the connection between social relationships and the likelihood of obesity, with the latter measure increasing as the number of overweight or obese individuals in a person's personal network increases.

"What we're gonna do is to use something called group concept mapping and community engagement strategies to talk to people — to design a multi-component intervention that will address obesity and cardiovascular risk," D'Alonzo said. "It's definitely a community-academic partnership between Rutgers and the Asian Indian community in Central New Jersey."

The pilot study was approved through a partnership with the Rutgers—New York University Center for Asian Health Promotion and Equity and research-specific grants from the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities, she said.

D'Alonzo said her previous work on health disparities in minority communities focused on the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in Mexican immigrant populations.

She said although the Asian Indian and Mexican communities experience different stressors, both ethnic groups face comparable lifestyle changes after immigration and suffer from preventable health repercussions.

Regarding her interest in immigrant health and community engagement, D'Alonzo said her grandparents were immigrants, and she believes the significance of these research topics should be examined further.

"There are many groups of people who come to this country, and they're actually in better health when they arrive than they are a few years later, both mental health and physical health," she said. "​​Nobody's really ever been able to address (why) … but that impacts their health in a dangerous way."

Additionally, D'Alonzo offered cardiovascular health advice for college students, stating that students should understand their personal risk level for cardiovascular disease and stay mindful of lifestyle factors like diet, exercise and sleep patterns.

The other primary aspect of students' proactiveness toward their cardiovascular health would be effective stress management and finding positive ways to mitigate daily stressors, D'Alonzo said.

"If (students) don't come up with some really healthy ways to handle stress, when they get out of school, they will use those same mechanisms," she said.

Moreover, D'Alonzo said she encourages students on campus from immigrant families and minority communities to communicate with their relatives and friends about the prevalence of health disparities and preventative action.

Overall, she said the role of community engagement significantly influences public health outcomes.

"When you look at problems that go on in a community and you want to come up with some really structured solutions, the best way to do that is in partnership with people in the community because they know what the problem is in a way that's totally different than an outsider would," D'Alonzo said.

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