Patterns of Health Risk


As with the aged population worldwide, people in Korea are living longer and living those later years with multiple medical co-morbidities. Estimated to have one of the most drastic increases in the elderly population, by 2050 those 60 years and older in Korea will make up 41% of the population.




Korean Americans have relatively low rates of obesity. In one study, only 8% of the sample was obese according to WHO body mass index criteria for Asians (Cho & Juon, 2006). However, it is notable that the probability of becoming obese increases with the length of residence in the United States.


Alcohol and Nicotine



Alcohol and nicotine are the major substances consumed by Korean males. Korean American elders show lower rates of smoking and alcohol drinking than elders in Korea. For example, the rate of current smoking was 26% for Korean American men (Juon, Kim, Han, Ryu, & Han, 2003) and 47% for Korean men in Korea (Kim & Baik, 2004). Those who were less acculturated were more likely to smoke and drink alcohol (Juon et al., 2003).


Diabetes and Hypertension


Studies also identified that Korean American elders have higher rates of diabetes and hypertension than White counterparts (Lee, Yeo, & Gallagher-Thompson, 1993). The risk for Hepatitis is known to be high among Korean Americans. In a study by Hann (1994), 5.2% of the females and 7.4% of the males over age 40 were carriers of Hepatitis B Virus.


Poor Nutrition


A study on nutritional status of residents of senior housing in Chicago found that the nutritional quality of the Korean American elders’ diets was poorer than the other ethnic groups (Kim et al., 1993):


  • A large percentage of Korean elders had low intake of calories, calcium, vitamins A and C and riboflavin;
  • 25% of the Korean elderly women consumed less than 67% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein.


Mental Distress


Korean American elders are known to be at a particular risk for mental distress (Hughes, 2002; Hurh & Kim, 1990). Studies using standard depressive symptom inventories (e.g., the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale and the Geriatric Depression Scale) reportedly show that Korean American elders have higher scores than other racial/ethnic groups (e.g., Min, Moon, & Lubben, 2005). Although the high scores may be partly attributed to cultural response patterns to symptom inventories (Jang, Kim, & Chiriboga, 2005), the findings call attention to the heightened needs for mental health services in Korean American communities. However, their utilization rate for mental health service is extremely low (Kim, 1995; Shin, 2002). Studies report that Korean American elders are subject to cultural misconceptions and stigmatism related to mental disorders (e.g., Jang, Kim, Hansen, & Chiriboga, 2007).


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