Mystery Persists in Hispanic Health

Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, a leading NIH health disparities authority, recently spoke before the HRSA Hispanic Employee Resource Group in recognition of Minority Health Month.
Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, a leading NIH health disparities authority, recently spoke before the HRSA Hispanic Employee Resource Group in recognition of Minority Health Month.

 

The prevalence of cancer, heart disease and stroke -- the three leading causes of death in the United States -- is lower among Hispanic Americans than their risk factors might suggest, and generally better than rates within other minority populations, an NIH expert said April 11.

Speaking before HRSA's Hispanic Employee Resource Group, Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable called the incongruity "an epidemiologic paradox."

"Essentially, it means outcomes are better than expected based on known, predictive risk factors," said the director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, adding that further research is needed to explain the trend: Hispanics have lower death rates for nine of the 15 leading causes of death -- yet substantially higher death rates compared to whites from such causes as diabetes, chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and homicide.

Life expectancy offers a similar illustration: U.S. Hispanics typically have lower income, less education and lower rates of health insurance coverage, but tend, nonetheless, to live longer than non-Hispanic whites.

From left, BHW's Miryam Gerdine, with Nydia Cappas of the Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico; and BPHC's LCDR Israel Garcia, president of HRSA's Hispanic Employee Resource Group.
From left, BHW's Miryam Gerdine, with Nydia Cappas of the Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico; and the Bureau of Primary Health Care's LCDR Israel Garcia, president of HRSA's Hispanic Employee Resource Group. 

 

Of significant interest to research scientists, the paradox's lesson is that social and economic disadvantages do not inevitably lead to "the worst (health) outcomes," said Pérez-Stable, a  longtime professor of medicine and former director of the Center for Aging in Diverse Communities at the University of California-San Francisco.

The Hispanic/Latino population of the United States is projected to increase from 56.7 million to 84.5 million by 2035. Hispanics are the largest minority population in the United States.  

"It does say that poor people can do well," Pérez-Stable said of the research. "There might be some factors that help us understand … and leverage that."

Date Last Reviewed:  April 2019