Seattle-based nonprofit National Asian Pacific Center on Aging’s (NAPCA) newly funded program, “Healthy Eating, Healthy Aging,” aims to improve heart health in communities across the country.
NAPCA was recently awarded a $484,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation to improve healthy eating and nutrition with the ultimate goal of reducing heart disease―the leading cause of death for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).
The Healthy Eating, Healthy Aging program will serve nine states covering 17 metropolitan areas through 19 community-based partner organizations that are serving older AAPI adults. In Seattle, the Chinese Information Service Center and the Korean Women’s Association are among the re-grantees. The goal of the program will be to reach out to at least 50,000 AAPI residents in the local markets, and about 3,000 seniors will attend the healthy eating training in eight languages, including Chinese (Mandarin & Cantonese), Korean, English, Japanese, Khmer, Samoan, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.
The International Examiner spoke with NAPCA’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) National Director Eun Jeong Lee to learn more about these efforts to address heart disease in the AAPI community.
International Examiner: What are the reasons for heart disease being the leading cause of death for AAPIs? In terms of diet or smoking, are there specific cultural and language barriers in play here?
Eun Jeong Lee: Heart disease is the second leading cause of death for AAPIs between the ages 65-84 and the first leading cause of death among AAPI ages 85 and older. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 21 percent of all deaths among Asians are due to high blood pressure related deaths.
We recognize that health disparities of heart disease remain prevalent among the AAPI older adult population as this group faces disparities in accessing quality care. AAPIs experience poor access and quality of care compared to mainstream populations. There is also a lack of culturally competent prevention and treatment programs and services that are linguistically tailored, to help reduce high blood pressure for AAPIs. Socioeconomic factors including education, income, health insurance and limited English proficiency status contribute to barriers of fully accessing quality health care among the AAPI older adult population.
In addition, most available health and nutrition training programs are not tailored to address issues, such as smoking or high sodium intakes among the AAPI population. Through the Walmart Foundation, we were selected as one of nine nonprofits—as part of $5 million in grant funding—to help strengthen local communities through increased access to nutrition education and emergency meals programs. Since June, we have been implementing the “Healthy Eating Healthy Aging” program to provide culturally competent and linguistically appropriate healthy eating and nutrition education training to prevent and reduce heart disease among older AAPI adults.
IE: The AAPI community is very diverse. What is NAPCA’s strategy in reaching out to these communities?
Lee: The AAPI community is very diverse in terms of languages and cultures. AAPI diets consumed by different ethnic groups may seem similar, but are actually different from each other. NAPCA’s strategy is to develop culturally and linguistically acceptable materials. We translated the training materials into seven targeted AAPI languages including Chinese, Korean, Khmer, Japanese, Samoan, Tagalog, and Vietnamese, and incorporated culturally competent photos and contents into our training materials.
Therefore, AAPI older adults with limited English proficiency could easily understand the nutrition education. Our second strategy is to develop partnerships with community based organizations that are serving AAPI older adults in our target areas. In the AAPI community, the role of community based organizations are very unique to AAPI older adults’ lives. We are working with 19 community based organizations nationwide, and each organization has in language facilitators who are trained to educate AAPI older adults with limited English proficiency.
IE: What is the message that needs to get out and what needs to happen in order to reduce heart disease among AAPIs?
Lee: Our message through Healthy Eating Healthy Aging project is to educate AAPI program participants to change their eating behaviors to improve their heart health. We have five objectives:
- Increase vegetable consumption
- Increase fruit consumption
- Increase cook and prepare meals at home
- Increase of awareness of sodium intakes
- Increase of reading nutrition fact labels
IE: Are AAPI seniors a focus in this effort or does this effort require reaching everyone across the board?
Lee: At this point, our Healthy Eating Healthy Aging project focuses on seven ethnic-based AAPI senior groups, but we are anticipating to expand it to other ethnic groups and other geographic areas in the future.
IE: In what ways will NAPCA be partnering with community organizations?
Lee: NAPCA is currently operating five direct offices and partnering with seven subcontractor organizations in seven states through our federally funded subsidized training and employment program, Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). Through SCSEP, NAPCA collaborates with more than 400 community based organizations nationwide to provide meaningful subsidized employment training to low income older AAPI adults. As a result, NAPCA has established its infrastructure to reach out to an increased number of AAPI ethnic community members.
For the Healthy Eating Healthy Aging project, we identified partner organizations according to target areas and ethnic groups. The number of participants served were determined based on each partner organization’s capacity, as well as the project budget. As a result, NAPCA identified 19 organizations in 16 cities in nine states to serve 3,000 participants who will be completing six hours of nutrition training.
IE: What else would you like our readers to know?
Lee: There are many healthy eating education materials and workshops in the U.S., but there are not enough nutrition and health related programs tailored for AAPI languages and cultures. Healthy Eating Healthy Aging is a unique program developed to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate nutrition education focused on heart health, to be delivered by AAPI focused community based organizations and trainers who are culturally and linguistically competent. Support from the Walmart Foundation will enable us to continue delivering on our ongoing commitment to expand nutrition education programming and implement in the AAPI community, as well as to increase our capacity to serve more ethnic AAPI groups.
Eun Jeong Lee is the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) National Director at National Asian Pacific Center on Aging.