The Burden of Heart Disease among Arab Americans in Michigan
Master’s Student in Epidemiology
February 12, 2019, Epidemiology, MPH, Students, Health Disparities, Heart Disease, Research
Current research on the burden of heart disease among Arab Americans in Michigan indicates significant disparities across the population, but a lack of available data about Arab Americans limits the effectiveness of public health interventions to address these disparities.
There are approximately 3.5 million Arab Americans living in the United States today.1 Arab Americans are a diverse community of immigrants and descendants of immigrants from Arabic-speaking nations, such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, and Sudan.1 After California, Michigan has the second largest population of Arab Americans in the United States.1 In fact, Arab Americans compose approximately 5% of Michigan’s population.2
Despite significant size, there is little information available about the health of the Arab American population in Michigan, and in the U.S. more broadly. That limited amount of available information may be due to the challenge of identifying Arab Americans because they are currently grouped as white race on most documents, a standard that creates difficulties when conducting health-related research.3 At the federal level, Arab Americans can only be identified from the ancestry question that was included on the long form of the U.S. Census and is now included on the separate American Community Survey.3 Last-name algorithms have also been used to identify Arab populations for health research, but these algorithms have a small chance of occasionally misclassifying individuals who are not Arab as Arab.4
“Despite having less heart disease, one study found that Arab Americans have higher rates of heart disease-related death compared to non-Hispanic white Americans.”
The data that is available from the state of Michigan shows that Arab Americans are more likely to be sedentary than non-Hispanic white Americans, but they have less heart disease.2 Despite having less heart disease, one study found that Arab Americans have higher rates of heart disease-related death compared to non-Hispanic white Americans.5 However, another study found that while Arab men had higher rates of heart disease-related deaths compared to white men, Arab women had lower rates of heart disease-related deaths compared to white women.6 Arab Americans in Michigan tend to have higher education and income5, so socioeconomic status does not fully explain why this community has higher rates of heart disease-related deaths.
These disparities in heart disease burden, and the difficulties presented in addressing them due to lack of available data about Arab Americans nationally, highlight the growing importance of public health efforts to improve data collection and to identify and reduce heart disease disparities among Arab Americans in Michigan and across the country.
About the Author
Latifa Bazzi is an MPH in Epidemiology in General Epidemiology candidate at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Latifa graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn in 2015 and became interested in public health through interning for Henry Ford Health System while completing her undergraduate degree. She worked in liver cancer research before returning to school for her MPH and just completed a summer internship at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where she assisted with prostate cancer research projects.
She is currently working with Dr. Carlos Mendes de Leon on a project investigating the effects of discrimination on mental health among Arab Americans. She hopes to combine her interests in cancer research and Arab American health to study the burden of cancer in Arab communities in the United States.