Data looking at diabetes among Hispanics shows what experts have known for some time; the rate of metabolic disease among this growing minority is significantly higher than among non-Hispanic whites.
That being said, the data also shows something else that’s very important–Hispanics cannot be lumped under an umbrella term when it comes to health.
The new information is part of an ongoing large-scale study of Hispanics in the United States entitled “The Hispanic Community Health Study/ Study of Latinos”, and according to project manager Larissa Avilés-Santa, MD, from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the findings are complex when it comes to the health of Hispanics but clearly show there is no single “Hispanic profile.”
“One of the main messages is that Hispanics are not a monolith. It has been assumed for a long time that Hispanics are one unique group, that we all behave the same, eat the same, dance the same and that is not the case. Although there are cultural, historical, and religious similarities, we also have differences,” Dr. Avilés-Santa told Medscape Medical News. “Assuming homogeneity is not the way to address clinical care with Hispanics. It’s better to ask questions, get to know the patient, and go from there.”
The diabetes information revealed that approximately 35 percent of Hispanics overall have metabolic syndrome, compared to 22 percent in the United States population as a whole. Similarly, Hispanics collectively have a 16.9 percent prevalence of diabetes compared to other adults in the United States with an overall prevalence of 11.3 percent.
This data suggests that, as a group, Hispanics have a higher incidence of diabetes; however, when broken down into subgroups, the numbers change drastically. Hispanics of South American origins actually have a lower diabetes percentage, at 10.2 percent, while Hispanics of Mexican origin have the highest rates at 18.3 percent.
“We need to get more involved. There are not enough of us. Any girl born in the US to Latino parents has a 1 in 2 chance of developing diabetes in her lifetime. It’s almost the same for males. This is a real epidemic,” Jaime Davidson, clinical professor of internal medicine, said regarding the findings.
The numbers change again when Hispanic subgroups are evaluated for hypertension. In this circumstance, those of Mexican descent have some of the lowest rates while Hispanics from the Caribbean have the highest rates.
Study researchers indicate that this information is not the part of a clinical trial, but is classified as an epidemiological study, meaning the data is being compiled in an effort to better understand a group under observation. Experts hope to gain insight as to why, despite high rates of chronic health issues, Hispanics experience longer lifespans than other races/ethnicities.
We want to go underneath and understand [what is] happening in every Hispanic group,” Dr. Avilés-Santa said. “Are we living longer and healthier? [If so] we want to know what we’re doing well. Or are we living longer with more health problems? And, what can we do about it?” she told a media briefing at AACE. “Language barriers, discrimination, resilience, faith, beliefs about health and disease .All of this may play a big role in the difference we’re observing among Hispanic groups.”
Dr. Avilés-Santa and her team will continue to monitor health trends within the Hispanic community, gathering data not only on medical conditions, but also on social determinants of health such as insurance coverage and genetic analyses.