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U.S. Hispanics live longer than those in other ethnic groups, Ruiz finds

John RuizJohn Ruiz, right, assistant professor of psychology, led a new analysis of health studies that shows Hispanic-American participants’ survival rates from heart disease and other medical conditions are substantially higher than that of the non-Hispanic white and African-American participants.

The finding confirms the existence of the long-debated Hispanic Mortality Paradox - that Hispanic Americans tend to have health outcomes that are equal or better than those of white Americans, even though Hispanics’ socioeconomic status is, on the average, lower and therefore associated with worse health.

Ruiz worked with two researchers at Brigham Young University to determine survival rates of specific diseases by different racial and ethnic groups. Past studies had focused only on death certificates and census counts, not causes of death.

The analysis of 58 past longitudinal studies, which was published on the American Journal of Public Health website, showed:

  • Hispanic-American participants in the studies tracking heart disease patients were 25 percent more likely to be living at the conclusion of the studies than the participants in the other groups.
  • Hispanic-American participants with no health conditions at the start of the studies were 30 percent more likely to be living.

The researchers combined study participants with diabetes, kidney disease, stroke and other health conditions except for HIV/AIDS and cancer into one category. Hispanic-Americans with those health conditions were 16 percent more likely to be living at the end of the studies than those in other races. In addition, Hispanic-Americans with HIV/AIDS and cancer faced the same mortality risk from these diseases as those in the other two ethnic groups, Ruiz said.

Overall, the Hispanic participants in all of the studies had a 17.5 percent lower mortality rate as compared their non-Hispanic white and African American counterparts, regardless of age, he said.

A 2011 Pew Hispanic Center report noted that far fewer Hispanic-Americans graduate from high school and obtain college degrees than Americans in other ethnic groups. The report also said that Hispanic-American households’ median income is lower than that of other households. Nearly one-fourth of Hispanic-Americans live in poverty, and a larger percentage has no health insurance, the report said.

These factors should contribute to higher mortality rates at younger ages for Hispanic-Americans, a group that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports having a life expectancy of 80.6 years — nearly three times higher than the national average.  

Ruiz said cultural differences could play a role in explaining the Hispanic Mortality Paradox.

“Hispanics are very social, and family support is important to them," he said. "They also respect their elders and include them in family dynamics. And social support has been shown to contribute to better health. Social behaviors and cultural values may buffer against the stress of economic and environmental disadvantages in regard to health.”

In addition, Hispanic-Americans may experience “resilience at several points in the course of disease,” Ruiz said.

“Hispanics might be less susceptible than some other races to illness in general or to specific conditions with high mortality rates, such as cardiovascular disease. It’s also possible that the rate of disease progression might be slower among Hispanics, resulting in lower morbidity and greater longevity,” he said.

-       Nancy Kolsti, News Promotions


Posted on: Fri 18 January 2013

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