The majority of the 1.7 million ethnic Vietnamese Americans trace their origins to the mass exodus that followed the Vietnam War. Concentrations of Vietnamese Americans can be found in California, Texans, Washington, Florida, and Virginia.39 Vietnamese Americans have a lower median income than do Asian Americans overall.40 Moreover, the circumstances under which they entered this country left much of this population with a sense of cultural, economic, political, psychological, and social upheaval that continues to affect their health today.41
Information about the health problems of the Vietnamese-American population is limited. There is evidence that Vietnamese women have higher rates of ulcers, stroke and diabetes compared to women in other Asian subpopulations.42 Vietnamese-American women also have cervical cancer rates that are three times that of Asian-American and Pacific Islander women overall.43 Notably, low levels of knowledge of the Pap test have been found among Vietnamese-American women44 who also have low cervical cancer screening rates.45 Health beliefs and attitudes towards gynecological exams, as well as concerns over cost contribute to low screening rates among Vietnamese Americans.46, 47, 48
The 2007 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), which oversampled Asian subpopulations and was administered in five languages (including Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese), provides evidence that language barriers and health illiteracy are particularly important problems in this population. Vietnamese were more likely than Chinese to have limited English proficiency (38.5 percent vs. 27.4 percent), and limited English proficiency was strongly related both to low health literacy and poor self-reported health status.49 Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of the Vietnamese who had limited English proficiency reported themselves to be in poor health, by far the highest level among the five racial/ethnic groups for which separate data could be broken out in the survey. By comparison, 39 percent of Chinese with limited English proficiency reported “poor” health, while the rate among whites, of whom more than 99 percent were proficient in English, was 13 percent.