Hispanic health: What are the main issues affecting Latinos in the U.S.?

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    Hispanics are one of the fastest growing minorities in the United States, representing more than 16 percent of the country’s population, according to the most recent U.S. census data. In fact, Hispanics account for more than 52 million residents of the nation, a number which is expected to grow to 132.8 million by the year 2050.

    A 2009 Gallup poll found that 41.7 percent of Hispanics in the country, age 18 and over, lacked health insurance, compared to the national average of 16 percent and 11.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites, though numbers from the most recent census data indicate about 30.7 percent of Hispanics under the age of 65 currently lack health insurance, a number which is down from 31.6 percent in 2009.

    With approximately 3 in 10 Latinos being uninsured, this translates into bigger challenges when it comes to health prevention and intervention, which in turn lead to higher prevalence of chronic diseases.

    The most common conditions affecting Hispanics in the U.S. are: cancer, heart disease, unintentional injuries, stroke, diabetes, chronic liver disease, chronic lower respiratory disease, homicide, perinatal conditions, and influenza/pneumonia.

    Cancer and Hispanics

    Hispanic health

    Breast cancer is one of the top killers for Latinas.  (Shutterstock)

    Cancer replaced heart disease as the number one killer of Hispanics in the United States during 2012. Within that year alone, the American Cancer Society estimated 112,800 Hispanics were diagnosed with cancer, and more than 33,000 will die from the disease.

    Cancer can affect almost any part of the body, and is classified by the National Library of Medicine as uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. No one is certain what causes cancer, though genetics and exposure to external factors are likely to be the combining link.

    The most common cancers among Hispanics living in the U.S. include breast, colon/rectum, liver, lung, melanoma, prostate, stomach, and uterine/cervix. Of those, the leading cause of cancer deaths for Hispanic men is lung cancer (18 percent), with breast cancer topping the list for Latinas (15 percent).

    Overall, cancer deaths are responsible for approximately 21.1 percent of deaths in the U.S. Hispanic community annually.

    While there is no way to completely prevent certain forms of cancer, some conditions, such as melanomas, can see a decreased incidence through the use of preventative methods such as diet, sunscreen and tanning salon avoidance. Diet rich in antioxidants and an active lifestyle have also been found to help prevent major diseases such as cancer.

    Heart disease and Hispanics

    Hispanic health

    Hispanics are 20% less likely to suffer from heart disease but more likely to die from it. (Shutterstock)

    Heart disease is the board phrase used to describe an array of diseases and conditions affecting the heart. The Mayo Clinic states the phrase is often used interchangeably with cardiovascular disease; however, cardiovascular disease tends to refer more to conditions affecting blood vessels.

    According to the most recent information from HHS, Hispanics are 20 percent less likely to suffer from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites; however, high rates of obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, and tobacco use keep heart disease as a leading killer among the Hispanic population.

    Approximately 21 percent of Hispanic deaths per year are related to heart disease. The American Heart Association indicates among Mexican Americans age 20 and older, 6.7 percent of men and 5.3 percent of women have coronary heart disease, and 3.6 percent of men and 1.7 percent of women have had a heart attack.

    Prevention for heart disease means maintaining a healthy weight and eating a well-balanced diet, though at-risk individuals should consult with their doctor about individual health.

    Unintentional injuries and Hispanics

    Unintentional injuries are classified as those related to uncontrollable circumstances such as fires or car accidents. While both adults and children are affected, Hispanic adolescents are one of the groups most at risk.

    Hispanic health

    67% of all deaths in children between the ages of 5 and 19 were considered unintentional injuries. (Shutterstock)

    The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report 67 percent of all deaths in children between the ages of 5 and 19 were considered unintentional injuries, with 68 percent of those deaths related to motor vehicle accidents. What’s more, the Child Trends Data Bank indicates in 2010, approximately 9 million unintentional injuries sent children to the emergency room. Of those, more than 8,000 were fatal.

    Decreasing driver distraction and never driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs are all advised since the majority of unintentional injuries occur from motor vehicle accidents.

    “Unintended injuries are the leading cause of death and disability for children and adolescents in the U.S. Among people ages 1-19 years, they account for more than a third (37 percent) of all deaths; for newborns and infants under the age of one year, they are the fifth leading cause,” stated the Data Bank. “…rates for white and black children (11.6 and 11.5 per 100, 000, respectively), and Hispanic children (7.5 per 100,000),” are between the two groups with the highest unintentional injury mortality rates: Indian American and Native Alaskan.

    Stroke and Hispanics

    A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is suddenly interrupted or reduced. Without proper oxygen flow, brain tissue begins to die in what is known as a stroke.

    Hispanic health

    Mexican Americans have higher cumulative incidence for ischemic stroke at younger ages. (Shutterstock)

    Strokes are considered largely preventable because decreased blood flow is related to a build-up of plague in the blood vessels. Obesity, high cholesterol and smoking are significant risk factors for this condition.

    While the risk of stroke for Hispanics is between that of African-Americans and non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics are more likely to die following a stroke due to increased risk factors such as inactivity, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity, which complicate the condition.

    According to the most recent data from the American Stroke Association, 2.8 percent of Hispanic adults have had a stroke. Mexican Americans have higher cumulative incidence for ischemic stroke at younger ages compared to other demographic sub-groups and ethnicities, and also have a higher incidence of intracerebral hemorrhage and subarachnoid hemorrhage.

    Stroke prevention includes eating a healthy diet, exercising, and closely monitoring blood pressure and illnesses like diabetes. Studies have shown 80 percent of strokes are preventable.

    Diabetes and Hispanics

    Hispanic health

    Hispanics in the United States are disproportionately affected by diabetes. Shutterstock)

    Diabetes can be used to describe a group of diseases that affect the glucose level in the blood. In every type of diabetes, too much glucose is present in the blood, though the reasons behind the surplus are what defines one form of diabetes or another.

    Hispanics in the United States are disproportionately affected by diabetes, with Latinas having a 52.5 percent risk of developing diabetes during their lifetimes and a 45.4 percent risk for Hispanic men.

    “As of 2010, 3.2 million Hispanic adults, 18 years and older, 13.2 percent of that population, have diabetes,” states the Office of Minority Health. “Diabetes is more prevalent in older Hispanics with the highest rates in Hispanics 65 and older. On average, Hispanics are 1.7 times as likely to have diabetes as Whites.

    “Mexican Americans, the largest Hispanic subgroup, are almost twice as likely to have diagnosed diabetes than U.S. non-Hispanic whites. And, in 2008 the death rate from diabetes in Hispanics was 50 percent higher than the death rate of non-Hispanic Whites”

    Chronic liver disease and Hispanics

    Hispanic health

    Hispanic men are 1.7 times more likely to die from liver disease. (Shutterstock)

    Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, also known as scarring of the liver, can be caused by many different issues, including various form of hepatitis. Alcohol abuse, certain medications and genetics can all lead to chronic liver disease.

    Hispanic men are 1.7 times more likely to die from liver disease than are non-Hispanic white men, and Hispanic women are 1.8 times more likely to die from the condition than are non-Hispanic white women.

    To lower the risk of liver disease, alcohol use should be limited along with the inclusion of a healthy diet and exercise routines. Safe sex practices will help avoid the contraction of some types of hepatitis, which can aid in liver scarring.

    Chronic lower respiratory disease and Hispanics

    Chronic lower respiratory disease is composed primarily of three major respiratory ailments: asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

    Tobacco smoke is one of the primary factors contributing to these diseases, accounting for 80 percent of emphysema cases alone.

    In the case of asthma, genetics tend to play an important role in approximately 30-50 percent of cases, with external irritants complicating the condition.

    Hispanic health

    Hispanics are 30 percent more likely to visit a hospital because of asthma. (Shutterstock)

    While people of all ethnicities live in polluted areas, minorities and individuals with low incomes are more likely to be exposed to high concentrations of dangerous particles in air pollution.

    According to a study published in the journal Environmental Health News, Latinos in the U.S. were the most likely to be exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution, especially of compounds such as vanadium, nitrates and zinc.

    Approximately 26 million people in the United States live with asthma, a condition where the airways swell due to exposure to an irritant, and according to the Office of Minority Health, Hispanics are 30 percent more likely to visit a hospital because of asthma when compared to non-Hispanic whites.

    Hispanic children are also disproportionately affected, being 40 percent more likely to die from asthma compared to non-Hispanic whites.

    Homicide and Hispanics

    Homicide is defined as the killing of one person by another person.

    Although not a health condition, for Hispanics in the U.S., homicide is the second leading cause of death for young adults between the ages of 10 and 24, though a 2012 report from the Washington Post indicates homicide deaths are at their lowest numbers in the last 50 years.

    Perinatal conditions and Hispanics

    Hispanic health

    Latinas skip prenatal care due mostly to language and cultural barriers. (Shutterstock)

    Perinatal conditions are circumstances at the time of birth which affect the baby. The phrase does not encompass health issues related to complications during birth related to the mother, but rather issues experienced by the baby shortly after or just before the event.

    Infant mortality in the Hispanic population is among the highest in the nation.  Among Hispanics in the United States, there are 4.8 to 7.3 deaths out of every 1,000 live births.

    The Office of Minority Health indicates Hispanics are twice as likely to begin prenatal care later during pregnancy or not at all, when compared to non-Hispanic whites.

    A study from the Utah Department of Health showed a high number of Hispanics skipped prenatal care due mostly to language and cultural barriers and lack of knowledge of the health care system.

    Influenza/pneumonia and Hispanics

    Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory condition spread by multiple strains of influenza viruses. While many people recover from the flu after a few days, serious complications, such as pneumonia, can make the condition deadly.

    Hispanic health

    Low vaccination rates put Hispanics at higher risk for the flu.

    During 2011, an estimated 9 million Hispanics in the United States contracted the flu virus. This demographic is at a higher risk, says the CDC, because of low vaccination rates and complicating medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes. That being said, during the 2011-2012 flu season, the CDC indicates Hispanic children had higher vaccination status when compared to non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black children.

    The 2012 flu season saw only 38.8 percent of Hispanic adults vaccinated against the illness.

    The best way to prevent the flu is to receive the vaccination and practice good hygiene and hand washing. Keeping the immune system strong is also recommended and that can be achieved by cutting on sugars, including fresh vegetables and fruits and having an active lifestyle.

    Other issues affecting Hispanics

    While the above conditions are the leading causes of death among Hispanics, a number of other major health issues have been cited by the CDC.

    Those issues include:

    • HIV/AIDS
    • Tuberculosis
    • Obesity
    • Suicide
    • Mental issues
    • COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases)
    • Chagas disease


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