Study: Native Hawaiians live 14 fewer ‘healthy years’ than other ethnic groups

Study: Native Hawaiians live 14 fewer ‘healthy years’ than other ethnic groups
(Image: University of Hawaii)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Native Hawaiians living in Hawaii have a significantly shorter life expectancy compared to other racial and ethnic populations in the state, a new study finds.

The University of Hawaii study, published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, also shows Native Hawaiians spend fewer years in good health than other groups.

Yanyan Wu, lead author of the study and an associate professor with UH Office of Public Health, calculated the healthy life expectancy (HALE) of the major racial and ethic groups in Hawaii.

HALE is a measure of the number of years that people live in good health, and she says it provides a more complete estimate of population health than life expectancy.

“Our results highlight the disparities faced by Hawaii’s indigenous people,” said Wu.

For the study, Wu and her colleagues first calculated overall life expectancies for Native Hawaiians, whites, Filipinos, Japanese and Chinese people in Hawaii using data from death records from the state Department of Health and U.S. Census population estimates.

The researchers then adjusted those overall life expectancies using data from a health survey called the Hawaii Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

One question in the survey asked, “Is your health excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?”

The number of years that people spent in “fair” or “poor” health were subtracted from the overall life expectancies to find the healthy life expectancies.

Native Hawaiians had lowest healthy life expectancy.

Results showed the greatest gap in HALE was between Native Hawaiians and Chinese Americans. Chinese Americans had a HALE of 75.9, compared with 62.2 for Native Hawaiians, a gap of 13.7 years.

The HALEs for Japanese is 74.8, Filipinos is 73.3 and whites is 72.1.

In 2010, the overall HALE for people in the U.S. was 68.5 years, the researchers noted. Hawaii has the longest life expectancy of all 50 states.

“Numerous factors affect the HALE for any group,” said Kathryn Braun, a UH Manoa public health professor and the senior author of the new paper.

“Socioeconomic status, access to healthcare services, individual behaviors such as diet and physical activity and genetics can all affect HALE. In general, people with higher socioeconomic status have better health.”

Researchers said, collectively, Native Hawaiians have the lowest levels of educational attainment, lowest mean household income and highest prevalence of poverty of any group in Hawaii.

They also have the highest rates of coronary heart disease, obesity, diabetes and certain types of cancer. For all age groups, Native Hawaiians had higher mortality rates than the other races or ethnicities the researchers examined.

“To raise the HALE of Native Hawaiians, it is essential that public health professionals and researchers understand indigenous peoples’ concepts of health, knowledge, science and research,” Wu said.

“Government policy makers in Hawaii need to expand access of indigenous peoples to excellent education, well-paying jobs with health insurance and home ownership,” Braun added. “Ultimately, health status is a function of financial stability.”

The researchers noted that a limitation of the study was that people’s cultures influence how they answer questions about their health.

For example, research has shown that Chinese Americans tend to report worse health status than other groups, which could cause an underestimation of their HALE.

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