Often, when we hear about health issues concerning Hispanics in the U.S., the term Latino or Hispanic paradox is used. What does it refer to?
Hispanic paradox refers to the fact that, despite many and pronounced health disparities, Hispanics in the U.S. have a better overall mortality rate (and survival rate to chronic diseases) when compared to other demographics.
According to Hispanic Business, Hispanics tend to live an average of seven years longer than non-Hispanic blacks and five years longer than non-Hispanic whites.
“There’s something about being Latino that is good for their health,” Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, a professor of medicine at UCLA, told Hispanic Business, adding, “Just think if we had access to health care!”
For a while, experts suspected the Hispanic paradox was merely inaccurate data collection; that many immigrants coming into the country were young and healthy, and older Hispanics were returning to their countries of origin during the end stages of life. As time went on, however, numerous studies have continued to prove the Hispanic paradox exists at some levels.
Scientific American explains the Hispanic paradox may also be influenced by factors such as the Hispanic diet, holding down physically demanding jobs, and low rates of smoking and drinking among first generation immigrants.
Hispanic paradox: Reality or myth?
Not all experts agree there is such a thing as a Hispanic paradox. Jane L. Delgado, Ph.D., M.S., President and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health (NAHH), told VOXXI that in her opinion, the Hispanic paradox does not exist; that researchers have simply been using the wrong model for health and well-being.
“The notion of Hispanic paradox was developed to explain data that documented that Hispanics had longer lives than non-Hispanic whites and have less heart disease even with a variety of risk factors,” explained Delgado. “The reason that Hispanics did not fit the model of health was because the model was at best inadequate. Unfortunately, the ‘paradox’ view hindered the development of new models of health as it was based on insufficient information about health and wellness for a variety of communities.”
She added, “At the Alliance we propose that health goals be ‘better than the best’. For example, if one community has very good birth outcomes then that should be the goal for everyone. Finally, instead of health disparities the focus should be ‘best health outcomes for all’.”
Those who share Delgado’s views feel comparing ethnicities and races against one another is not an adequate measure of health within a community. A better comparison would be to take subgroups and look at factors influencing overall health.
For Hispanics, while not a statistically significant finding, there is evidence indicating United States-born Hispanics have a 20 percent higher mortality rate when compared to immigrant Hispanics.
“U.S.-born Hispanics have higher income, higher education, are far more likely to have health insurance, yet their outcome (on infant mortality) isn’t quite as good as immigrant parents,” Hayes-Bautista said.
Immigration status may not be as statistically important when it comes to rates of mortality among Hispanics, but significant behavior changes in acculturated Hispanics have been shown to greatly influence overall health.
As a general rules, U.S-born Hispanics are more likely to drink, abuse drugs, and contract sexually transmitted infections when compared to Hispanic immigrants; however, U.S. born Hispanics with higher levels of education tend to steer clear of risky behaviors as well.
When it comes to talking about a Hispanic paradox, then, it seems generalization of the Hispanic demographic might get in the way of really understanding the diversity of this group and the particular needs and concerns of each Latino subgroup found in the United States – foreign born or not.