With an average life expectancy of 77.7 years, Hispanics in the United States have one of the highest rates of longevity of all racial and ethnic groups in the country. However, they still face many of the same health issues as other groups, including some leading causes of illness and death.
Understanding these conditions, what causes them and how they are treated can help Hispanics reduce their risk of disease and live healthier lives.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says that Hispanics/Latinos are 50 percent more likely to die from diabetes or liver disease than non-Hispanic whites.
“Some of these diseases do have a genetic component, meaning they run in the family,” says Julio Romero, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Solana Beach. “While you can’t change your genes, you can work with your health care provider to determine your risk and make a plan to help reduce it through lifestyle changes, screenings and, if needed, medication or other treatment.”
According to the CDC, the top causes of illness and death among Hispanics include the following:
About 8 in 10 adult Hispanics are overweight or obese, and Hispanic children are twice as likely to be obese as non-Hispanic children. Excess weight can increase the risk for several serious diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and stroke, especially if you carry the weight around your belly.
“Being overweight is not inevitable if you’re Hispanic,” says Dr. Romero. “Making changes to the way you eat and increasing the amount of activity you get by just 30 minutes a day can make big differences in your weight.”
Traditional Latin American dishes can be diet-friendly and delicious.
About 1 in 5 Hispanic deaths in the United States are due to heart disease. Obesity contributes to heart disease among Hispanics, as does high cholesterol, although high blood pressure rates are about the same as other groups.
You can lower your risk of heart disease by keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels within healthy ranges and developing other heart healthy habits.
Eating a low-fat, low-sodium diet can help, along with getting regular exercise and adequate sleep. Stress can raise blood pressure, so if you’re feeling stressed, try to find ways to reduce or manage stress, such as deep breathing, meditation, spending time in nature or listening to music.
Like heart disease, cancer accounts for about 1 in 5 Hispanic deaths. To help reduce your risk, talk to your doctor about which cancer screening exams you should have – such as a mammogram, Pap smear, colonoscopy and skin cancer check – and how often. Having these exams as recommended can detect many types of cancer early, when it is most treatable.
Stroke is another leading Hispanic health issue, causing about 1 in 20 deaths. High blood pressure is the most important stroke risk factor, so have your blood pressure checked regularly. If it’s high, talk to your doctor about how to lower it through lifestyle changes and, if needed, medication.
Obesity and smoking also raise the risk of stroke, so maintain a healthy weight. If you smoke, your doctor can help you find ways to quit.
Hispanics have higher-than-average rates of type 2 diabetes and related complications, such as kidney disease. Diabetes can also raise the risk of heart disease.
Again, obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Your diet plays a major role not just in your weight, but also in managing your blood sugar levels.
Build most of your meals around whole foods such as whole grains, vegetables and lean proteins. Minimize processed foods, such as white rice or white flour, white tortillas, crackers and chips, and foods with added salt or sugar.
The number of Hispanics who have died from Alzheimer’s disease has risen in the past decade. Genetics, obesity and type 2 diabetes are thought to be significant risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a brain disorder that gets worse over time but whose symptoms can be managed to help slow progression of the disease.
Chronic liver disease is more common among Hispanics than other groups. Obesity, alcoholism and viral hepatitis infections are the leading causes of chronic liver disease.
Manage your health and risks through regular contact with your health care provider.
“It’s important to have regular physical exams with your health care provider,” says Dr. Romero. “We’re your partners in health, and we can help determine your risk for these diseases and develop a plan to stay as healthy as possible.”