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Hispanics Have More Chronic Diseases, Less Health Care Access, Experts Say

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Knight Ridder Newspapers


MIAMI - Hispanics are more likely to suffer from certain chronic diseases and have less access to health care than non-Hispanic whites, panelists said at the kick-off for a series of nationwide conferences in Miami Beach, Fla.

We're dying of some of these diseases because we're not getting the treatment,'' said Elena Alvarado, executive director of The National Latina Health Network, the conference sponsor.If we demand to have programs that will reduce the health disparities, we will be on our way.''

The Network, a nonprofit Hispanic health-care advocacy group, is hoping to draw attention to the disadvantages Hispanics face in combating preventable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Type 2 diabetes.

Among the data presented Thursday:

-Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.

-Hispanics account for 19 percent of the estimated 40,000 new HIV infections each year although they make up 14 percent of the U.S. population.

-Among Hispanics ages 18 and older, 64.7 percent of men and 56.8 percent of women are overweight.

-Diseases of the heart and stroke are the leading cause of death for Hispanics. Nearly a quarter are plagued by high blood pressure.

-Thirty-seven percent of Hispanics are uninsured, compared to 16 percent of all Americans.

Other ethnic minorities are plagued by similar health-care disparities, if not worse.

Among the risk factors contributing to the higher percentage of Hispanics affected by chronic diseases are a lack of access to health care and Spanish-language materials.

The large disparity between the percentage of Hispanics with health insurance and their non-Hispanic white counterparts is largely driven by their lack of employer-based coverage, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. While 73 percent of non-Hispanic whites receive medical insurance through their work, only 43 percent of Hispanics are covered by their employers.

Other factors influencing access to health care include immigration status. Undocumented Hispanics are more likely to forgo seeking medical attention for fear of deportation, panelists said.

We don't have the arsenal of weapons we have for other populations,'' said Thomas Liberti, chief of the Bureau of HIV/AIDS at the Florida Department of Health.Time and time again there are barriers for Latinos to be tested earlier.''

Panelists warned, however, against comparing Hispanics in general to other races, pointing instead to the considerable diversity among Hispanics themselves.

For example, among people 45 to 74, the American Diabetes Association reports that 24 percent of Mexican Americans and 26 percent of Puerto Ricans have diabetes, compared with only 16 percent of Cuban Americans.

Additional sources of conflict include the continued cultural stigmatization against certain infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, and the lack of attention given to mental-health disorders such as clinical depression.

They may call it `nervios,' `fatigo,' `nostalgia,' but they want to learn about it,'' said Belisa Lozano-Vronich, a clinical psychologist and author of a self-help book on depression.I encourage them to see it as clinical depression instead of `esta es mi cruz' (this is my cross) to bear.''

Dr. Christina Beato, Acting Assistant Secretary for Health in the Department of Health & Human Services, addressed similar issues in her keynote speech. ``If you think about the factors that make up our quality of life, so many of them are related to health: energy, longevity, mobility, absence of pain, a strong body and a healthy family.''

The findings from the Miami Beach conference and four others to be held in New Jersey, California, Illinois and Texas will be presented to federal and state officials at the 2005 National Latina Health Summit in Washington, D.C.


(c) 2004, The Miami Herald. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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