Culture and Health: the Hispanic Paradox in the USA

Culture has a huge impact on our health and the best example of this is what is known in American medicine as the “Hispanic Paradox.” The short version is: Hispanics live longer and are in better overall health then whites in the USA even though average incomes for Hispanics are lower than average incomes for whites of different classes. Low socio-economic class is associated with poor health worldwide excepting low income Hispanics in the US. There is a lot of speculation about this but no one has figured it out yet and some people say it’s a bunch of B.S. but most scientists accept it even though they can’t explain it.

A story in the LA Times from November 14, 2010, explains it better than I do:

Yet as a nation, we have paid scant attention to the so-called Latino paradox – the surprising health of Latinos in the United States considering their generally lower incomes and education levels. They are less likely to have health insurance; they go to doctors less often and receive less in the way of hospitalization or high-level care when they are sick. Yet they appear to have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and stroke, the biggest killers of Americans. Pregnant Latino women get less prenatal care, yet infant mortality is lower among this group….

The New York Times reports the same phenomenon, both of these stories being based on US government statistics issued in early October 2010. I think it is sort of fascinating.

Scientists call it the “Hispanic paradox”: despite high rates of poverty and relatively low rates of health insurance, Hispanics in the United States tend to outlive African-Americans and non-Hispanic whites.

A government report last week provided statistical confirmation of the phenomenon. It found that as of 2006, the life expectancy for Hispanics at birth was 80.6 years, 2.5 years more than for non-Hispanic whites and almost 8 years longer than for blacks.

The finding is all the more surprising because Hispanics have lower median family incomes and a higher poverty rate than whites and are less likely than whites to have a college education — all factors associated with better health. They also have high rates of obesity and diabetes….

[Sources: LA Times and the New York Times.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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