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Results Are In From Countywide Checkup : Health: O.C. survey of bad habits offers ethnic breakdown of drinking, smoking and obesity problems.

May 18, 1994|TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Adults in Orange County admit to drinking and driving more than twice as often as Californians living elsewhere, according to a sweeping survey of public health habits released Tuesday by county officials.

Latino men are more likely to be "binge" drinkers than whites or Vietnamese, the study found, and whites are less likely to report alcohol-related problems than the other groups. Vietnamese men, meanwhile, are more likely to drink alone than whites, who tend to drink in groups and in greater quantities.

These were among the findings of a comprehensive Orange County Health Care Agency study, "Alcohol Use, Smoking and Obesity in Orange County: General Population, Whites, Latinos and Vietnamese." The study, based on a telephone survey of 3,284 Orange County residents in 1991 and 1992, was particularly groundbreaking because it examined attitudes about alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking and obesity according to certain ethnic groups.

The sample included 1,275 whites, 1,032 Latinos, and 803 Vietnamese. Some of the respondents were not included in the final tally.

Health officials said they plan to present the data to the Board of Supervisors next week, with the hope that it will help attract federal and state money to local prevention programs.

Until now, the only data available was based on state and federal studies although most prevention programs are administered locally.

"It's important when resources are shrinking and demographics are shifting to know where to target the programs," said Dan Hicks, a policy planner for the health care agency. "We're trying to work closely with the different communities and make sure the word gets out."

Census figures indicate that of Orange County's 2.5 million residents, 65% are white, 23% are Latino, 10% are Asian and 2% are black. Of Asian residents, roughly 100,000 are Vietnamese--one of the county's fastest-growing ethnic groups.

James Cunningham, a research analyst who conducted the study, said the data found that many people also are beginning to suffer from health problems as a result of developing vices at an earlier age.

"This is very important because a lot of people think these kinds of behaviors only affect you down the road," Cunningham said. "But a lot of them are already reporting a lower quality of health. That's one thing the prevention people need to get out there."

Although only 7% of the respondents admitted to drinking and driving, Ron LaPorte, division manager of alcohol programs for the health care agency, said he found that to be "the most troubling conclusion" in the survey.

"People are either more honest or they're not getting caught," LaPorte said. "But that's definitely something we will have to look into again."

On another front, the study found that Latino men and woman who have spent the majority of their lives in the United States reported smoking more cigarettes, suggesting that tobacco use is associated with acculturation. The study found that less than 1% of Vietnamese woman smoke, compared with 18% of white women and 6.5% of Latino women.

Also:

* 12.7% of adults in Orange County can be classified as obese, according to the study. Vietnamese are less likely than whites and Latinos to be obese.

* One in six adults in the county is a "binge" drinker, defined as anyone who has consumed five or more drinks on any single occasion during the previous month. The study also concluded that people in Orange County are starting to drink alcohol at an earlier age than ever, which officials found to be a disturbing trend given the increased likelihood that they will develop alcohol-related illnesses later in life.

According to the study, 61% of men said they were under 18 when they had their first drink, compared with 34.8 % of women.

* 56.3% of the respondents said they had never smoked cigarettes. Of the 20% who said they were smokers, 42.4% said they smoke 16 or more cigarettes a day.

The study drew immediate praise from some members of the Vietnamese community.

"This is the first large-scale study that looks at Vietnamese," said Quang Pham, tobacco-use prevention coordinator for the Vietnamese Community of Orange County.

However, Pham said, based upon his experience working with tobacco-prevention programs, he believes that the smoking statistics mentioned in the study are too low. The study reported that 30.9% of Vietnamese men smoke cigarettes. However, Pham said he believes the number is closer to 50%.

"It is difficult to get people to stop smoking because it is part of the social norm for newly arrived refugees," Pham said. "We're trying to break the chain with the younger people but the older generation generally finds it difficult to stop."

In the population at large, one of the most encouraging findings was the number of people who have quit smoking. The study found that one four people in Orange County have given up cigarettes and stayed off them for more than a year.

Health Risks Surveyed

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