5 major findings from the CDC's big report on Latino health

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On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released Vital Signs, its first-ever national report on the health risks facing the country's Latino population.


In general, the findings were consistent with previous studies that addressed the “Hispanic paradox,” which refers to the longer projected life expectancy of Latinos compared to non-Hispanic whites—in spite of generally lower socioeconomic status and other “potential barriers to good health,” such as higher uninsured rates and environmental and social factors.

But the report dug deeper on factors contributing to this paradox. Here are the five biggest findings:

Leading causes of death for Latino populations are cancer, heart disease, and unintentional injuries

"Four out of 10 Hispanics die of heart disease or cancer. By not smoking and staying physically active, such as walking briskly for 30 minutes a day, Hispanics can reduce their risk for these chronic diseases and others such as diabetes," CDC director Tom Frieden said in a statement.

The report also revealed that Puerto Ricans and Mexicans are twice as likely than non-Hispanic whites to die of diabetes, and Mexicans are twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to die from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.

Also, death by homicide was substantially higher for Latinos than for non-Hispanic whites.

There is a lot of variation between Latino subgroups

Much like any ethnicity, Latinos are not a monolithic culture, but a spectrum of subgroups.


Overall, only 14 percent of Latinos smoke (compared to 24 percent of non-Hispanic whites), but smoking rates are particularly high among Cuban men (22 percent) and Puerto Rican men (26 percent). And smoking prevalence in Puerto Ricans is 66 percent greater than the prevalence in Mexicans.

Health risks differ for Latinos born in and outside the United States

Cancers related to infections—such as cervical, stomach, and liver cancers—occur more commonly in Latinos born outside the U.S. Foreign-born Latinos also have about 45 percent higher cholesterol levels than their U.S.-born counterparts.


However, foreign-born Latinos suffer about half as much heart disease, half as much cancer, 30 percent less obesity, and 29 percent fewer cases of high blood pressure than U.S.-born Latinos.

One thing foreign-born and U.S.-born Latinos have in common? Delay in getting medical attention or prescriptions due to cost.


Latinos face challenges in access to health care

The overall Latino mortality rate is 24 percent lower than the rate for non-Hispanic whites. However, they have less insurance coverage and lower preventative health care rates—41.5 percent of Latinos lacked health insurance and 15.5 percent delayed or simply did not receive medical care because of cost.


Latinos are woefully underrepresented in the health care and medical industry

Only 5.8 percent of U.S. physicians and 7.5 percent of public health school graduates are of Latin heritage. Given that one in three Latinos have limited English proficiency, more representation—as well as concerted efforts to offer bilingual health care—are musts, according to the report.