Eunjung KimThe young boy marked "yes" on the survey question that asked if he ever felt like committing suicide. Shortly afterward, Eunjung Kim, an Assistant Professor of Family and Child Nursing with the University of Washington's School of Nursing, met with the troubled 14-year-old and his parents at their local church. When asked why he sometimes thought about ending his life, the boy pointed to "the pressure his parents put on him to do well in school." It was a sad but not unfamiliar story to Kim, whose research is funded by the school's new Center for the Advancement of Health Disparities Research.
Kim's study of parenting styles and the problem behaviors of Korean American youth is one of several one-year pilot studies recently funded by the center. The center was formed last fall with a $2.25 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research to discover ways to reduce health disparities among and within population groups. The center, a partnership between the UW and University of Hawaii at Manoa, is one of eight collaborations that link a major research university (UW) to one serving a significant proportion of minority students.
Communities At Risk
"All you have to do is look at trends in the health of Americans to see the glaring and shameful inequities between Caucasians and minority groups," says UW's Bobbie Berkowitz, the center's director, and Professor and Chair of Psychosocial and Community Health. "With as much wealth and technological capacity as our country has, we have to ask why we're not making more progress in closing the gaps."
The statistics are glaring. African Americans have a higher incidence of heart disease than any other minority group. Vietnamese American women are five times more likely to suffer from cervical cancer than white women. Asian American Pacific Islander women have the highest death rate from suicide among all women over age 65. Minority groups, however, are not the only populations at risk. "If unchecked," Berkowitz points out, "infectious diseases can affect everyone-we are all potentially at risk for AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis C as they spread from high-risk groups to the general population."
Pilot Studies Funded
The center's primary mission is to develop research relevant to understanding health disparities. The center will initiate research to reduce health disparities and disseminate its knowledge. To these ends, the center is funding a series of pilot studies that examine a broad range of factors that influence health, including those at the individual, family, community, society and policy levels. These studies will help the center's researchers understand how health disparities occur and develop best practices to eliminate them.
Already, Kim has made tremendous progress toward explaining behavior problems affecting Korean American youth. "In Korea, authoritarian parental control is synonymous with parental love and interest; however, this is not the case in American families." In many Korean American families, for instance, the more parents exert control, the more their children experience feelings of rejection and hostility. Korean parents in the United States, therefore, may need to learn to parent differently. "These families need support and training," Kim explains.
Fortunately, the family she worked with at the church benefited from her expertise. "The boy's mom understands that by encouraging her son, he'll do better." So, these days, instead of scolding and worrying, mother and son are talking, sharing and having fun during computer lessons. Of course, it's the boy who's doing the teaching on that topic.
Eunjung Kim, who studies Asian parenting styles and youth behavior problems in Korean American families, often talks with parents about how to use positive discipline strategies such as praising and limit setting. Families benefit from the consulting and by learning about cultural differences between Korea and the United States.