Who you gonna call?

The major source of health information for South Asians in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is not the family doctor: it’s the internet. In this respect, South Asians probably resemble most Americans. In other respects they do not.

The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area has the fifth largest South Asian population in the United States. To learn about their perceived health status, health needs and health-related practices, several faculty, students, and alumni of The George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services collaborated on project SAHNA (South Asian Health Needs Assessment).

The SAHNA team conducted a survey on the web and by paper from which a total of 709 questionnaires was collected. The results are described in a report that was issued in May to mark Asian American month in the United States.

Selected findings: South Asians with higher incomes are more likely to have had a physical exam and to have seen a dentist in the past year. The same holds true for South Asians who speak English and those who are citizens. While the majority do not get much exercise, they also do not eat fast food regularly.

Project SAHNA has established a useful baseline for the Washington, D.C.-area’s South Asian population. It points the way to more qualitative follow-up research among the population. Even more importantly, it raises questions about what is distinct about the culture(s) of South Asian populations in the United States compared to that of other recently-arrived population and to longstanding residents.

Of the billions served at McDonald’s, not many of them are South Asians based in the District, according to a recent study. Image credit: Flickr user Road Side Pictures, creative commons licensed content.

I am intrigued by the 77 percent of the respondents who say that they never or rarely eat fast food. They are adults. What about their children?

When I did research with members of the North Indian immigrant community in Pittsburgh, Penn., in the early 1990s, food was sometimes a zone of contestation between parents and children. Parents wanted children to eat Indian food. A major compromise food was vegetarian pizza served at home. Children often lobbied for fast food from the major chains for special events like a birthday party or graduation. Concessions to children’s desires were made so that vegetarian pizza was served, for children, at communal meals following temple rituals.

According to the report’s findings, Jamie Oliver doesn’t need to do a site visit to South Asia, D.C. Not yet.

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