When it comes to improving health problems that affect the Asian American community, Stella Yi says the solutions can be found in research, but that becomes a problem when the data just isn’t there.
“You go into major health journals and major research studies and find that there’s no information on the people that you’re trying to reach,” said Yi, an associate professor in the department of population health at NYU‘ s Grossman School of Medicine.
She’s say she’s trying to change that through her work in studying health disparities by calling attention to problems in the way health data is gathered, categorized and aggregated by race and ethnicity, especially as it pertains to the Asian diaspora.
"All of those folks when they come to the United States, whether you’re from India or Bangladesh or China, are getting grouped into that Asian American category,” said Yi.
She's fighting the practice by lecturing about the need to gather more specific information on the roughly 30 subgroups within the AAPI community and doing her own research into people from those counties.
Critics say current methods hide disparities in areas like disease, mental health and poverty. Yi intensified her efforts after seeing how data affected policy at the height of the COVID pandemic.
“[In] March of 2020, the pandemic hits and there’s just data report after data report after data report, not just that doesn’t disaggregate Asian data, doesn’t even include the Asian data to begin with…. [and] it’s actually affecting how vaccination efforts are being allocated. It’s affecting who people are putting on the priority list for different covid related activities and it was terrifying to see that,” said Yi.
She says city data that showed a 100% vaccination rate in the Asian American community didn’t tell the whole story, after she and her team conducted a closer examination.
“You could see 80% of the Chinese community [was] vaccinated, but only 30% of the nepali community [was] vaccinated,” Yi said.
Yi’s work now includes collaborating with city officials and helping to understand how aggregating data falls short.
“All throughout my training I never focused Asian American health… and as I started to learn more about it I realized, ‘gosh if not me, then who?’"