Poor Heart Health: Majority of Hispanics and Latinos Ages 18 to 74 Are at Risk
81 and 70 percent of U.S. Hispanic and Latino men and women, respectively, have at least one cardiovascular disease risk factor
--by Nina Lincoff
The concept of America as a "melting pot" isn’t anything new. That first, second, and third generation descendants of a variety immigrants from around the world claim America as home is not surprising. And yet, for Hispanics/Latinos, there really isn’t much cultural understanding. Regardless of which Hispanic or Latino country individuals call home, all are placed under the same umbrella in the United States. In terms of health care, that can be a problem.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on the prevalence of major cardiovascular risk factors reveals surprising insights, and is remarkable in that it breaks Hispanics and Latinos into sub-groups by country of origin. Nearly 81 percent of all Hispanic/Latino men survey had at least one cardiovascular risk factor, as did 70 percent of women. For the largest minority group in the United States, with about 50.5 million reported citizens, or 16 percent of the total population, according to 2010 census data, a high prevalence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors among Hispanics and Latinos is a huge public health concern.
CVD risk was determined by examining the five most common risk factors: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and smoking. What’s frightening is that those at the highest risk, with three or more risk factors, are more likely to be less educated than those with two or fewer risk factors. The intersection of poor education and CVD risk is made all the more serious because educational access is a controllable factor. If quality of and access to education can be improved, so can cardiovascular health.
This study examined nearly 16,500 individuals from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds that fit into the Hispanic/Latino group. Previous studies largely focused on Mexican Americans, according to the study authors, and this large population sample is important for understanding to what extent CVD risk and disease affects large portion of the American population.
The Expert Take
What surprised researchers, said study author Martha Daviglus, M.D., Ph.D, “was of course the proportion of Hispanic and Latino men and women who have at least one CVD risk factor. This is really shocking; 81 percent of men and 70 percent of women.” Granted, said Daviglus, the ages of participants ranged from 18 to 74 years, with CVD risk rising with age, but the numbers are still remarkably high.
The difference among groups, said Daviglus, are also telling, though unsurprising considering the diversity of the Hispanic/Latino population as a whole. “Considering that they are so diverse…it is good to show the risk diversity of prevalence of CVD risk factors, and that this differs across men and women as well,” said Daviglus. Puerto Rican men and women had the highest prevalence of three or more risk factors. In general, the study says, those "with lower income or education had higher rates of smoking, diabetes, obesity, and hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol).”
With these numbers published, the hope, said
Daviglus, is to create a tailored educational approach for each of these
subgroups. “If we want to educate and we want to make sure that
different groups are going to be eating healthy, Mexicans would have a
different approach than South Americans,” said Daviglus.
The current health landscape for Hispanics/Latinos in the United States is riddled with cardiovascular risk factors. The five considered in the study put participants at risk for CVDs such as stroke and coronary heart disease (CHD), or heart attack, which is the leading cause of death in the United States.
With the majority of Hispanics/Latinos in the United States living with at least one cardiovascular risk factor, it’s clear that something needs to change. It must start with the recognition of a diverse Hispanic/Latino community with a variety of health and physical characteristics, and it may very well be dependent on improved health education.
Source & Method
16,415 participants from 9,872 households were enrolled in the Hispanic Community Health Study-Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL), a population-based cohort study. Of those, 772 were excluded from analysis. Data was gathered from 15,079 participants, 5,979 men and 9,100 women with a mean age of 43 to 44 years. Participants included Cuban, Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Central American, and South American peoples. For this study, researchers examined the prevalence of five cardiovascular risk factors between March 2008 and June 2011.
Participants were given a physical examination before which they fasted for 12 hours. Follow-up tests and surveys were also conducted.
The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities held a health disparities seminar focusing on Hispanics/Latinos in 2009 and reported that they have a greater risk of obesity, diabetes, and asthma than their peers.