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June 20, 2016

Study addresses health of Latinos in the United States

They are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States, yet the health of Latinos has been rarely studied.

While other ethnic groups, especially white Americans, have been well examined, “Latinos are pretty much overlooked,” said Hector Gonzalez, a College of Human Medicine associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics. “We’re pretty much a very large but neglected population.”

It’s a shortcoming he hopes to address.

Gonzalez is the lead author of a study published in the June issue of the American Heart Journal examining how well diverse Latino groups are meeting seven goals, known as Life’s Simple 7. Set by the American Heart Association to improve cardiovascular health and reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality by 20 percent by year 2020, the goals include managing blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, lowering blood sugar, getting active, eating better, losing weight and stopping smoking.

Less than 1 percent of the nearly 16,000 Latinos in the study met all seven goals, and a similar portion didn’t meet any of the goals. Latinos tend to have higher rates of obesity than the general population, Gonzalez said, a finding that could be due to dietary differences. Latinos of Puerto Rican and Dominican heritage also tend to have higher blood pressure, he said, and Puerto Ricans, particularly men, had a higher rate of smoking.

The findings should give physicians and public health officials a list of targets for improving the cardiovascular health of Latinos.

“We have some clearly defined goals for improving the cardiovascular health of this population,” Gonzalez said.

The study is part of a larger, long-running research project Gonzalez is conducting. He is the principal investigator of the Study of Latinos-Investigation of Neurocognitive Aging, or SOL-INCA, which is part of the landmark Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, a National Institutes of Health funded project monitoring cardiovascular disease among thousands of Hispanic/Latino adults living in San Diego, Chicago, Miami and the Bronx.

His work particularly focuses on the causes and possible treatments for dementia, a broad category of brain diseases closely related to cardiovascular health.

“What’s good for the heart is what’s good for the brain,” Gonzalez said.

The study’s findings take on greater urgency as the portion of Latinos in the U.S. population is expected to reach 20 percent by the year 2020, Gonzalez said.

“Honestly, I think that the nation has been caught off guard since the 2000 census,” he said. “Clearly we have some work to do.”

By: Hector Gonzalez

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