The first national study on Hispanic health risks and leading causes of death in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that similar to non-Hispanic whites (whites), the two leading causes of death in Hispanics are heart disease and cancer. Fewer Hispanics than whites die from the 10 leading causes of death, but Hispanics had higher death rates than whites from diabetes and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. They have similar death rates from kidney diseases, according to the new Vital Signs.
Health risk can vary by Hispanic subgroup. For example, nearly 66% more Puerto Ricans smoke than Mexicans. Health risk also varies partly by whether Hispanics were born in the United States or in another country. Hispanics are almost three times as likely to be uninsured as whites. Hispanics in the United States are on average nearly 15 years younger than whites, so taking steps now to prevent disease could mean longer, healthier lives for Hispanics.
“Four out of 10 Hispanics die of heart disease or cancer. By not smoking and staying physically active, such as walking briskly for 30 minutes a day, Hispanics can reduce their risk for these chronic diseases and others such as diabetes,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Health professionals can help Hispanics protect their health by learning about their specific risk factors and addressing barriers to care.”
This Vital Signs report recommends that doctors, nurses, and other health professionals
• work with interpreters to eliminate language barriers when patients prefer to speak Spanish.
• counsel patients with or at high risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, or cancer on weight control and diet.
• ask patients if they smoke and, if they do, help them quit.
• engage community health workers (promotores de salud) to educate and link people to free or low-cost services.
Hispanic and other Spanish-speaking doctors and clinicians, as well as community health workers or promotores de salud, play a key role in helping to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach to Hispanic patients.
The Vital Signs report used recent national census and health surveillance data to determine differences between Hispanics and whites, and among Hispanic subgroups. Hispanics are the largest racial and ethnic minority group in the United States. Currently, nearly one in six people living in the United States (almost 57 million) is Hispanic, and this is projected to increase to nearly one in four (more than 85 million) by 2035.
Despite lower overall death rates, the study stressed that Hispanics may face challenges in getting the care needed to protect their health. Sociodemographic findings include:
• About one in three Hispanics have limited English proficiency.
• About one in four Hispanics live below the poverty line, compared with whites.
• About one in three has not completed high school.
These sociodemographic gaps are even wider for foreign-born Hispanics, but foreign-born Hispanics experience better health and fewer health risks than U.S.-born Hispanics for some key health indicators, such as cancer, heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and smoking, the report said.
The report also found different degrees of health risk among Hispanics by country of origin:
• Mexicans and Puerto Ricans are about twice as likely to die from diabetes as whites. Mexicans also are nearly twice as likely to die from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis as whites.
• Smoking overall among Hispanics (14%) is less common than among whites (24%), but is high among Puerto Rican males (26%) and Cuban males (22%).
• Colorectal cancer screening varies for Hispanics aged 50 to 75 years.
• About 40% of Cubans get screened (29% of men and 49% of women).
• About 58% of Puerto Ricans get screened (54% of men and 61% of women).
• Hispanics are as likely as whites to have high blood pressure. But Hispanic women with high blood pressure are twice as likely as Hispanic men to get it under control.
“This report reinforces the need to sustain strong community, public health, and health care linkages that support Hispanic health,” says CDC Associate Director for Minority Health and Health Equity, Leandris C. Liburd, PhD, MPH, MA.