When asked what it means to be of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, or Nepalese descent, most South Asian Americans will talk about similar things: immigration, the culture of hard work, love of food and traditions, value of family and community. What you won’t hear about is the staggering epidemic of heart disease in our communities.
South Asian Americans are the second fastest growing minority group in the country, but are four times more at risk of developing heart disease than the general population. We have a much greater risk of having a heart attack before the age of 50 and we have emerged as the ethnic group with the highest prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, a very serious condition that significantly increases the risk of heart disease. These trends are not limited to those of us who have immigrated to America either: by 2020, South Asians will make up 25 percent of the world’s population but 50 percent of global cardiovascular deaths.
Much of what we know about these risks is thanks to relatively new research and, sadly, the increasing numbers of personal experiences of heart disease in our own families and communities. South Asian Americans often present with different risk factors than other populations, leading to delays in diagnosis. They are less likely to be overweight or obese, even though they are at high risk for cardiovascular disease with high blood pressure or cholesterol.
It is past time to address the lack of awareness of too many Americans of the unique health risks of South Asian Americans. We need greater awareness, education and outreach to South Asian American and medical communities across the country to address the stunning rise in heart disease that will hurt our economy and take even more lives if Congress does not act quickly.
As the first South Asian American woman elected to Congress, and as a prominent health care entrepreneur and WomenHeart Board member, we are committed to addressing these trends and improving the heart health of those in our communities. That is why we have worked together to introduce The South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act, H.R. 3131, in the U.S. House of Representatives. This bipartisan bill will help educate the South Asian community about the risk factors for heart disease and then ensure that all those living with heart disease receive the care, treatment and culturally appropriate support they need. This legislation authorizes research on cardiovascular disease among South Asian populations living in the United States, urges U.S. medical schools to focus on cultural differences in diets as part of their nutrition curriculum, and creates grants to develop web portals of information on South Asian heart health and the development of culturally appropriate informational material for the South Asian community.
Heart disease knows no political party. That is why we are proud to see the South Asian Health legislation championed by Democrats, Republicans and a multitude of top medical and patient-centered organizations, including the American Heart Association, WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, and the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin. All of us understand that this is urgent. The South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act will help us gain a better understanding of heart disease and afford all of us the opportunity to thrive and live healthier lives.
U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal represents Washington’s 7th District and is the first South Asian American woman elected to Congress. She is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a member of the Judiciary, Education & Labor, and Budget Committees. Gayathri Badrinath is the Founder & CEO of Devyn, a company developing precision digital therapeutics for women and dedicated to advancing the health of women globally. Prior to founding Devyn, Gayathri spent more than 20 years in global health care organizations across the pharmaceutical, medical device and diagnostics industries. She is a Board member at WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Heart Disease.