Julie Amparano

Mixed message

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When it comes to the health of Latinos in Arizona, experts tend to ask: Is the glass half empty? Or is it half full?

That’s because research shows that in some areas of health, Latinos fare better than the rest of the population – despite greater exposure to unhealthy factors such as poverty, pollution and crime. Yet, in other health categories – such as diabetes, cervical cancer and liver and kidney disease – Latinos don’t fare well.

Overall, Latinos have tended to do better in the battle against lung cancer, malignant cancer and cardiovascular diseases – heart and coronary diseases. Death rates due to unintentional injuries among Latinos were also below average.

Consider the findings of a 2007 report by the Arizona Department of Health Services: “Differences in the Health Status Among Race/Ethnic Groups, Arizona:”

• In 2007, as in the previous five reports, Latinos achieved a third-place health ranking. Latinos ranked in the middle of five groups on 29 of 70 measures of health. They ranked best or second best on 21 indicators in 2007, an increase from 18 indicators in 2005.  In 2007 Arizona’s Asian residents ranked best among race/ethnic groups in overall health status, followed by white non-Latinos, Latinos, American Indians and Blacks.

• Latinos ranked worse than average with high teen pregnancy rates and low utilization of prenatal care services. However, Latinos ranked better than average with low alcohol and tobacco use among women giving birth, low incidence of pre-term births and low birth weight.

• In 2005 the mortality rate for diabetes among Latinos was 128.9 percent greater than the average rate for all groups; in 2007 it was 81.2 percent greater.

• The overall score of 1.4 reflects a lack of substantial gap between the statewide averages in 2007 and the rates or ratios specific to Latinos. (A score is a percent above or below the average for all Arizona residents. A negative score indicates better than average standing on an indicator).

So why do Latinos fare well in some health areas and not in others?

Experts have many theories explaining this apparent health paradox. One notable hypothesis is that solid family and cultural ties within the Latino community help to create important support systems that are necessary to avoid stress.

In an article in Demography, researchers Alberto Palloni and Elizabeth Arias explain that strong Latino cultural and family values shield against disease risk factors.

Yet, other factors are increasing health risks among Latinos. One factor is the lack of preventive healthcare. In other words, the relative health of the Latino community would be better if more Latinos had received regular checkups and had a primary healthcare provider, according to Seline Szkupinski Quiroga, an Arizona State University professor focusing on Latino health issues.

“We need to focus more on prevention and that means being able to get medical attention” on a regular basis, Quiroga says. (A Pew Hispanic Center report,  “Hispanics and Health Care in the United States,” shows about 27 percent lack a primary healthcare provider).

There are just a few of many complicated variables playing into the status of Latino health. As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, Latino Perspectives Magazine provides this general portrait of Latino health.

Risk profile of Latinos in Arizona

(Percent above or below state mean in 2007)

Top 10 risk indicators (Better than average)
Alcohol use during pregnancy……………………….…………………….66.7
Tobacco use during pregnancy……………………….……………………66.0
Genital herpes during pregnancy………………………………………….57.1
Deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases……………………52.0
Incidence of hyaline membrane (respiratory distress)…………..50.0
Deaths from lung cancer……………………………….……………………46.3
Drug-induced deaths………………………………………………………….42.4
Intentional self-harm (suicide)……………………………………………40.3
Anemia during pregnancy…………………………………………………..33.3
Incidence of genital herpes…………………………………………………30.2

Bottom 10 risk indicators (Worse than average)
Pregnancies among females 15-17………………….…………………….85.6
Deaths from diabetes………………………………..………………………..81.2
Deaths from nephritis (kidney disease)……………..…………………72.4
Deaths from cervical cancer………………………….…………….………68.4
Pregnancies among females 18-19…………………………….………….65.7
Pregnancies among females 19 and younger………….….………….60.8
Assault (homicide)……………………………………………………………..55.8
No prenatal care………………………………………………………………..45.5
Deaths from chronic liver disease, cirrhosis………….……………..44.2
Deaths before expected years of life reached…………………………36.1

Source: Arizona Dept. of Health Services – Differences in the Health Status Among Race/Ethnic Groups, Arizona, 2007.

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