Is Taking on American Customs Decreasing Latino Life Expectancy

By Julissa Catalan

Though previous studies have shown that Latinos have a higher life expectancy than most other Americans, a new study suggests that might soon change for newer generations of Latino-Americans.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute released initial results of its largest Latino health study on Monday. The groundbreaking study is said to be the most in-depth report yet, following 16,000 Latinos aged 18 to 74 since 2008. Studies were done in Chicago, the Bronx, New York, Miami and San Diegodocumenting chronic disease and risk factors.

Results showed that health habits depended partly on age as well as country of origin, noting that older Latino generations from South America were among the healthiest. Meanwhile, younger generations of Puerto Ricans were some of the unhealthiest.

Generally, high rates of blood pressure, diabetes, pre-diabetes and obesity were found in older adults, while younger Latinos were less likely to take preventative measures such as controlling diabetes and eating the recommended foods.

Trading in Latino customs for a more Americanized lifestyle is believed to be the biggest factor for these changes.

“We already know that the longer that people live in the United States, the worse their health becomes,” said Neil Schneiderman, the lead investigator for the study’s site at the University of Miami.

Study participants were randomly selected. They were given free medical exams, completed health questionnaires, and provided periodic health updates throughout the process. The first results provided a reference-line description on Latino health in the United States.

The Results:

  • High blood pressure affects almost one-third of Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans, versus one-fifth of South Americans;
  • Diabetes affects one in five Puerto Ricans versus 11 percent of South Americans;
  • Obesity affects nearly half of Puerto Ricans, versus 30 percent of South Americans;
  • One-third of Puerto Ricans are smokers, versus 11 percent of those from the Dominican Republic;
  • One-third of all Latinos aged 18 to 44 have one risk factor for heart disease;
  • More than half of Latino men aged 45 to 74 eat five or more fruits and vegetables daily, versus about 2 in 5 women of the same age and just 1 in 3 women aged 18 to 44.

“With the changing face of the Hispanic population, we need more current information about their health,” said Dr. Larissa Aviles-Santa, the institute’s project director for the study.

Avila-Santa believes the results will guide Latinos toward better ways to prevent health conditions affecting their communities.

Previous studies have shown that Latinos are expected to live an average of two years longer than non-Latino whites and seven years longer than Blacks. Though diabetes and obesity are more common in Latinos than in whites, Latinos are less likely to have heart disease.

Researchers believe these statistics are proof that the healthiest Latinos migrate to America. However, they also believe this advantage will decrease as unhealthy customs recondition Latinos the longer they are in the U.S. They also predict first generation Latino-Americans could abandon their cultural traditions, furthering this decline.

Latinos are the nation’s largest, fastest-growing ethnic group and make up about 15 percent of the U.S. population.

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