New research headed up by John Ruiz, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of North Texas, Department of Psychology, supports the existence of the much-debated Hispanic paradox.
The data, which was collected from previous health studies, indicates Hispanic study participants had significantly higher survival rates for conditions such as cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS and other medical conditions such as lupus, diabetes, kidney disease and strokes.
“The Hispanic paradox refers to the surprising finding that despite having a worse risk factor profile, Hispanics and Latinos tend to have better health than non-Hispanic Whites,” Ruiz told us. “Within this general finding is evidence that Hispanic’s may actually live longer than non-Hispanic Whites, a phenomenon that researchers have long-termed the Hispanic mortality paradox. This phenomenon has been controversial due its paradoxical nature and the mixed evidence associated with it.
“Our study sought to address the mixed evidence by conducting a meta-analysis, a technique that allows researchers to combine all the available evidence into a single study to determine an overall finding,” he added. “Using this approach we found that Hispanic ethnicity was associated with a 17.5 percent mortality advantage over non-Hispanics with clear differences among people who were healthy, who had heart disease, or who had a variety of other health conditions when they entered their respective studies.”
Hispanic paradox study review
The study data not only indicated a mortality advantage overall, it also found Hispanic patients in the heart disease group were 25 percent more likely to be alive at the end of the research compared to other ethnicities, and Hispanics in the group with no known health issues were 30 percent more likely to be alive.
Among participants with diabetes, kidney disease, stroke and other health conditions aside from HIV/AIDS and cancer, Hispanics had a 16 percent survival advantage. HIV/AIDS and cancer participants were found to have equal mortality regardless of ethnicity.
Ruiz indicates there are a number of factors involved in the Hispanic paradox, which may influence the resiliency Hispanics seem to have when it comes to long-term disease.
“Although the evidence is not yet in, there is speculation that factors that promote close social relationships may be important,” explained Ruiz. “For example, Hispanic cultural values such as simpatia (importance of displaying kindness and maintaining interpersonal harmony), familismo (importance of keeping warm family relationships), and personalismo (valuing and building warm relationships) may help to build strong social support itself, [which] is associated with better health and lower mortality risk.”
Other factors which may contribute to the Hispanic paradox must be investigated, said Ruiz, and researchers need to look into factors such as whether or not Hispanics are less likely to get sick or suffer from certain diseases; if Hispanics have slower disease processes; or if Hispanics are more likely to recover from illness episodes compared to non-Hispanics.
“If there is anything we’ve learned in health research it’s that the answers are rarely simple,” concluded Ruiz. “It is likely that such resilience is due to a combination of factors including biological, behavioral and psychosocial factors. I should note that efforts to identify resilience factors should be considered as equally important as identifying risk factors as both influence health. Hence, this study not only highlights these group differences but also reminds us that we can learn from positive outcomes and not just negative ones.”
As for the existence of the Hispanic mortality paradox, Ruiz says the data from his research is very clear. While the Hispanic health paradox may be more open to debate due to the vague terminology associated with the word “health,” mortality outcomes were well-defined.
Among all studies published in the last 25 years that were longitudinal in nature, meaning that they followed the study participants over time and then reported their status (live, dead) at the end of the study, Hispanic participants were 17.5 percent more likely to be alive at the conclusion of the study compared to non-Hispanics, Ruiz pointed out. Whether this advantage holds true for other health outcomes such as infection rates, heart attacks or cancer recurrence remains to be studied.