Palo Alto Medical Foundation Newsroom

Cardiovascular Disease Leading Cause of Death for California’s South Asians

Findings Heighten Need for Intervention Programs Emphasizing Fitness, Nutrition

More than 1.6 million South Asians live in the United States, more than one quarter of them in California. This large population is particularly susceptible to cardiovascular disease, a category of illnesses of the heart or blood vessels. According to a newly released study by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute (PAMFRI).

Latha Palaniappan, M.D., M.S., lead PAMFRI researcher, and Ariel Holland, PAMFRI research assistant, collaborated with investigators at the University of California, School of Public Health to study California mortality records from 1990 to 2000. During this time period, almost 2,000 South Asian deaths were due to cardiovascular disease (655 of whom were women and 1,204 were men). Cancers, diabetes, and traumas, accidents and suicides were the next most common causes. Of 4,452 total deaths, 1,859 deaths were due to cardiovascular disease.

“Four out of every 10 South Asians in California dies of cardiovascular disease. I can’t stress enough the importance of early screening, health education and positive lifestyle changes in helping South Asians live healthier, longer lives,” said Dr. Palaniappan.

In addition to her research role, Dr. Palaniappan is also a physician at PAMF’s PRANA (PRevention & AwareNess for South Asians) clinic. The PRANA clinic provides health education and resources to the South Asian community. South Asians comprise 13 percent of the patient population at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF).

South Asians are at higher risk for heart disease and diabetes, many because they have inherited high-risk genes for heart disease and diabetes. As a result, it takes very little excess weight to develop these diseases. They should get screened early and regularly to monitor their cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body size. In addition to screening, adoption of a healthy diet and an exercise program is vital to improving health and preventing heart disease.

“As the South Asian population continues to grow, it is imperative that we develop intervention strategies to combat these diseases,” Dr. Palaniappan said. “The California medical community must act to prevent these deaths by raising awareness and improving treatment of risk factors. At the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, we are deliberately and creatively reaching out to this large, at-risk community to educate them that cardiovascular disease is preventable through lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and getting daily exercise.”

PAMF’s PRANA program offers various resources for South Asian patients, including doctors, nutritionists, health education classes and community lectures. Everyone is invited to sign up for the free monthly e-newsletter, South Asian Wellness.