Since emigrating from Iraq to Detroit at age seven, Florence Dallo has been concerned with health; specifically, the health of the Middle Eastern population in Michigan.
The Arab-American population is one of the fastest growing American populations, with nearly 3.6 million Arab-Americans living in the U.S., according to the Arab American Institute. Boasting half a million Arab-Americans, Michigan houses the largest percentage of Arab-Americans of any other state in the country. Yet when Florence began researching the health of this population, she found that “the U.S. federal government does not recognize Arab-Americans as a minority.”
Although Census respondents can self-identify their “ancestry” as anything up to two ethnic origins, there are only five races and one ethnicity to choose from, with “Arab-American” not on the list. As Florence explains, “Our health status gets masked under the ‘White’ category.”
Without disaggregated, population-specific data on American subgroups, researchers like Florence cannot conduct accurate research on this population.
“Arab-Americans’ health varies from Whites,” Florence emphasizes. “For one thing, Arab-Americans who have lived in the U.S. for a long time often have worse health than new immigrants. Many of them adopt negative lifestyle habits, including a lack of activity and poor nutrition.”
This barrier to relevant research limits decision-makers’ knowledge of Arab-Americans’ health and disease status, their experiences with health care, the quality of health care they receive, their health behaviors, and policy issues.
As a firm believer in making health — especially the health of Arab-Americans — a shared value, Florence has been working for nearly 20 years to disaggregate Arab-American health data from that of Whites.
Now an Associate Professor at Oakland University, she also is on an advisory board of the U.S. Census Bureau focusing on data collection for its annual American Community Survey. Recently, Florence and other researchers, advocacy organizations, and community organizations convinced decision-makers that this group — labeled Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) — deserves its own classification. As a result, the U.S. Census Bureau is conducting pilot surveys to determine just how many people select the new MENA category. If the results are significant, the 2020 Census will include this ethnicity category.
“I’m hoping that if the Census recognizes this MENA group, other federal government organizations will do the same,” Florence explains.