Largest-ever study of Latinos’ health reveals issues, risk factors

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Man undergoes health exam

A study participant undergoes an examination.

Results from the largest health study of Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S. to date reveal a unique set of health risk factors and provide insight into the prevalence of certain diseases like diabetes and hypertension for this diverse population.

The National Institutes of Health has released findings from the first phase of its ongoing Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL) today. The multi-city epidemiological study collected information on the health issues, risk factors, and lifestyle habits that impact this population, including the 4,136 participants from Chicago.

“This is information that people can use to help them make better health choices,” said Dr. Martha Daviglus, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Minority Health Research and principal investigator for the Chicago portion of the study.

“We now know, for example, that one-third of the participants have pre-diabetes,” Daviglus said. “By educating and informing our participants and Hispanics/Latinos everywhere through the sharing of these new data, people can begin to make educated choices about their health.”

Data were collected between 2008 and 2011 from 16,415 adults age 18-74 living in Chicago, San Diego, Miami and the Bronx who self-identified as being of Central American, Cuban, Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican or South American background.

“This study is so important because the Hispanic/Latino population is the fastest growing population in the U.S., and we need to know and document their health problems to better serve their health-care needs going forward,” Daviglus said. “This study is the foundation for those efforts.”

Sharing the findings with the study participants and the public has been a major goal from the outset, Daviglus said. The nonprofit National Alliance for Hispanic Health produced a booklet for participants that summarizes the results and highlights the data for each city.

Some national findings include:

  • Eighty percent of men and 71 percent of women had at least one adverse risk factor for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or smoking
  • The percentage with obesity was high among all Hispanic/Latino groups but was lowest among participants of South American origin
  • Among younger participants few had diabetes, but among participants ages 65-74 almost half had diabetes. About half of the men and women with diabetes had their diabetes under control
  • Men were more likely than women to eat enough fruits and vegetables each day
  • Hispanic/Latina women, especially those age 45-64, were more likely to report symptoms of depression than men

In Chicago:

  • Nearly half of participants age 45-64 were at high risk for diabetes
  • One in three participants with diabetes were unaware that they had diabetes
  • Women were more likely than men to know they had high blood pressure
  • About 40 percent of participants ages 18-44 were obese
  • About 57 percent of Chicago participants age 18-64 lacked health insurance, trailing only Miami, where 71 percent were without coverage
  • On average, women age 45-64 spent only nine minutes each day in recreational physical activity

Each participant underwent extensive health examinations to assess lifestyle-related risk factors for cardiovascular, pulmonary, liver, kidney, and other diseases. They provided demographic, socioeconomic and cultural information that could influence disease risk. Sleep, dental, and hearing evaluations were also done. Participants were followed for up to four years by yearly phone calls or home visits to assess changes in their health and to document any medical events, such as hospitalizations.

The information compiled in the data book “serves as a foundation for individuals, communities, scientists and health policymakers to use to tailor more effective health intervention strategies,” said Dr. Larissa Aviles-Santa, project officer of the HCHS/SOL at the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, which is the primary sponsor of Phase 1 of the study, along with six other NIH institutes and centers.

Phase 2 of the study began last June, and involves continued follow-up of participants from Phase 1. In October, HCHS/SOL will begin a second examination of cardiovascular risk using echocardiography and blood and urine tests, to correlate with demographic, cultural and lifestyle factors. Genetic information will also be analyzed to see if health and disease findings can be linked to specific genes.

“As the study continues over the next six years and beyond, we will be able to see how acculturation and lifestyle factors play a protective or detrimental role in the health of Hispanics/Latinos,” said Daviglus.

UIC’s Institute for Minority Health Research, a research and training unit that studies biomedical and behavioral health disparities, will manage the second phase of HCHS/SOL under a contract from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Daviglus served as principal investigator of the Chicago Field Center during the first phase of the study while at Northwestern University, where she is still adjunct professor of preventive medicine.


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