Patterns of Health Risk

Most empirical research on Vietnamese older adults has primarily focused on mental health conditions. There is not much empirical research on medical illnesses and specifically chronic illness in Vietnamese older adults. However, the current research shows that in general Vietnamese population in the United States is susceptible to chronic illnesses such as

  • cancer,
  • heart disease,
  • stroke,
  • hypertension,
  • diabetes.

Their susceptibility to these chronic illnesses results from nutritional deficiencies in the Vietnamese diet and other practices common to the Vietnamese culture. Currently, there is no national data on the health status of Vietnamese older adults in the United States. Most of what is currently known comes from smaller studies at the state or local level.

Dietary Habits

Vietnamese Dish

© Ashok Sinha/Photodisc/Getty Images

Studies on dietary habits of newly immigrated Vietnamese group show that through the acculturation process, the Vietnamese consume more low nutrient foods with high fat content and less nutrient-rich foods like grains, fruits and vegetables (Ikeda 2002). This is a due to lifestyle change requiring busier work and school schedules and readily available food items that are nutrient rich and are part of traditional Vietnamese dishes. However, not all Vietnamese foods are nutrient rich.

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Cardiac and Hypertensive Problems

The Vietnamese diet consists of high glucose starches, such as white rich and noodles, and high sodium ingredients such as fish sauce (nước mắm, pronounced nook mahm), which tends to worsen conditions such as diabetes and hypertension (Tran et al, 2006).


Also related to the risk of cardiac and hypertensive problems may be the high rates (35%-42%) of smoking among Vietnamese men. The prevalence of heart disease and hypertension within the Vietnamese community may be increasing as a result of minimal awareness and understanding (Pham et al, 1999). Research also shows that cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease are the second leading cause of death for Vietnamese of both genders in seven U.S. States (Hoyert & Kung, 1997).

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The primary leading cause of death for Vietnamese of both genders in the U.S. is cancer (Hoyert & Kung, 1997).

  • Both genders have the highest incidence of lung and liver cancer than their Asian counterparts ( ).
  • Vietnamese men have the second highest incidence of lymphoma in the United States and they have the highest rates for liver and nasopharynx cancer.
  • As for Vietnamese women, they have a two and half times higher incidence of cervical cancer than any other racial or ethnic group (

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Mental Distress

Aside from physical ailments, mental health problems due to traumatic experiences during the Vietnam war are also prevalent amongst Vietnamese older adult refugees or immigrants who have re-established themselves in the U.S. Close to 50% of Vietnamese refugees from a general medical clinic suffered major depression. Mental health studies of Vietnamese refugees show that they have high levels of depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress (Hinton et al, 1993) due to years in squalid refugee and or re-education camps, sudden and involuntary transplantation from a familiar cultural setting to a completely unfamiliar cultural setting, and difficulties with acculturating and adapting to Western culture.

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