The good news, Hispanics/Latinos are less likely than whites to develop cancer. Want more good news? We are as healthy – if not healthier – than our white counterparts.
So, what’s the bad news?
The longer Hispanics live in the United States, the more likely their health will deteriorate, says Jacqueline Angel, professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and a sociologist affiliated with the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin.
“Time and time again, the numbers keep showing Hispanics are living longer,” Angel says. “But the longer they live in the United States, the more likely their health will deteriorate.”
Angel and other University of Texas at Austin researchers are examining what they call the “Hispanic Paradox” and how to improve health care in the Hispanic community.
There are several trends affecting Hispanics’ health that concern Angel and fellow researchers:
- Elderly Hispanics often outlive their resources and are unable to provide for themselves or afford health care as they age.
- “The Mexican-origin population, particularly Hispanic women, have the highest life expectancy at age 65,” says Angel, whose research is often done in collaboration with her husband, Ronald Angel, a sociology professor also affiliated with the Population Research Center. “But this creates a conundrum because as their life expectancies continue to expand, they run the risk of outliving their assets and experiencing poverty in old age.”
- Hispanics tend to have limited health insurance, often because they don’t have the education needed for jobs that provide benefits.
- In 2007, 16 percent of whites in Texas had no coverage for all or part of the year, and about 40 percent of Hispanics were uninsured. Inadequate health insurance and the serious lack of retirement coverage among Hispanics are detailed in the Angels’ new book, “Hispanic Families at Risk: The New Economy, Work, and the Welfare State.”
- Hispanics’ relative lack of education also drives them to jobs that can take a toll on their health. Barely half of Hispanics 25 and older are high school graduates, a number that creates a vicious cycle of low-wage employment, poor health and limited employment prospects, Angel says.
- Creative activity helps people stay healthy, according to a 2007 study led by John Mirowsky, a sociology professor affiliated with the Population Research Center. He discovered that non-routine, enjoyable work significantly benefits overall physical and mental health.
Why should health care be a primary concern to Latinos?
Professor Angel cites U.S. Census projections that show Hispanics are the largest, fastest-growing, and youngest minority group in the United States. More than 13 million Hispanic seniors are expected to be living in the United States by the year 2050.
Disappointingly, among elderly Hispanics living alone, almost two-thirds are considered poor and one-third live below the poverty level.
Not only is the growth of the Hispanic population a reason for concern but social and cultural factors within the Hispanic community compound the health care problem.
For example, studies that have found social and cultural factors influence Mexican American women’s access to breast cancer screening. Women reported feeling uncomfortable when asked to remove their clothes for a doctor’s exam or a mammogram. Some Latinas would cancel medical appointments if they found out their doctor was a male also; some would withhold personal medical information during a visit because they were uncomfortable with an interpreter listening in.
Even within their own community Latinos are sometimes hesitant to discuss cancer and other illnesses, researchers say.
Still, although Latinos are sometimes hesitant to seek preventive care, other barriers limit their health care options, especially for those who have limited English speaking ability. In result, limited services mean fewer chances to catch cancer and/or other illnesses at early and treatable stages.
General misconceptions about symptoms also hurt the Latino community. According to the Journal for the American Medical Association, misconceptions about cancer are more prevalent among Latinos than Anglos.
Are we as a community taking notice?
A recent article cites research that Latino voters in the United States see health care reform as the most important priority for the country and a solid majority expresses support for universal health care that includes a public option.
These are among the findings of a poll of 1,000 registered Latino voters, conducted November 1-14 by Impremedia, Latino Decisions and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, in the 21 states that have the largest Latino populations.
Clearly, Latinos recognize the importance of health care within our community. The solution is to better educate the Hispanic community of health care issues, and demand change from our elected officials to make this a key priority, in order to combat the health care crisis.
posted by Nicanor Pesina.
Nick, a first-year student at the University of Texas, Austin, serves as NLLSA’s Mountain Regional Director.