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22nd January, 20215 min read

Hispanic health: what you need to know

Medical reviewer: Dr Ann Nainan
Author: Helen Prentice
Last reviewed: 11/01/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

You probably know that your family history can play a part in how likely you are to get certain health problems. But to get a fuller picture, it’s useful to think about your ethnic background and culture, too.

This is because some diseases and conditions are more common in particular ethnic groups. It doesn’t mean you’ll definitely develop a certain health issue – it’s simply that your risk may be a bit higher than that of someone who has a different background.

Read on to find out what health conditions may be more likely to affect you if you’re Hispanic, and what you can do to help lower your risk.

What kinds of people are classed as Hispanic?

In the US, people who are Hispanic are usually either from or descended from a Spanish-speaking country,including some countries in the Caribbean.

There has been a lot of debate about who is or isn’t Hispanic in America. Generally, it’s down to personal choice if people identify as Hispanic – and the choices people make vary across generations.

What health conditions can affect Hispanic people?

Your lifestyle choices and culture can play a part in whether you get certain health problems. For example, smoking is harmful to health, but eating a low-fat diet full of vegetables can be good for you. So if you’re aware of the health problems that people with your background are more likely to get, you can help to reduce your risk by making healthier lifestyle choices.

If you’re Hispanic, cancer, heart disease and diabetes are three potential health risks. However, these risks can also vary within different groups of Hispanic people – because, for example, 66% more Puerto Ricans smoke than Mexicans. Whether you were born in the US or another country can make a difference to your risk, too.

Cancer

Cancer is the most common cause of death among Hispanic people. It’s a condition where cells in one part of the body grow and spread in an abnormal way. It can be caused by lifestyle choices, such as smoking or an unhealthy diet, as well as genetics, hormones or a problem with your immune system.

When compared with non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics actually have lower rates of the 4 most common cancers – breast, colorectal, lung and prostate. But they have higher rates of stomach, liver, cervical and gallbladder cancers.

Heart disease

Heart (cardiovascular) diseases are the second most common cause of death for Hispanic people. Coronary heart disease is when the arteries that supply your heart with blood get narrower, because of a build-up of fatty material. It develops slowly over time, and symptoms vary. Some people may not realise they have it until a blood clot forms, which can lead to a heart attack.

The risk of heart disease can also vary between different Hispanic groups. For example, some studies have found that people of Puerto Rican descent have the highest percentage of cardiovascular risks, compared with people with a Central or South American background.

Diabetes

Hispanics have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes than other US adults, and are also likely to develop it at a younger age.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition where a type of sugar, called glucose, builds up in your blood instead of being used by your body for energy. It’s fairly common, and tends to develop as people get older. Eventually, however, the high glucose levels can damage your arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

It’s thought that the following factors might play a part in why Hispanic people are more likely to get type 2 diabetes – though they are general, and may not apply to specific people or groups:

  • genetics – Hispanic genes may increase the chance of developing type 2 diabetes, although the connection is unclear
  • food – in some Hispanic groups, traditional foods can be high in calories and fat. There may also be a social pressure to over-eat at large gatherings
  • lifestyle – certain Hispanic groups tend to be less physically active, and being overweight can be seen a sign of health

What can I do to reduce my risk?

As well as your ethnic background, there are other risk factors you can’t change – such as your family history and age. But you can make lifestyle changes to help lower your chances of certain health conditions.

Physical health

Tips to help look after your physical health if you’re Hispanic include:

  • asking your doctor if there are any cancer screening tests you should have – especially if you have a family history of cancer
  • maintaining a healthy weight by staying physically active
  • giving up smoking
  • eating a healthy diet that’s low in salt and fat, and includes lots of fruits and vegetables
  • taking medications, if required, to help control blood pressure and cholesterol
  • learning more about diabetes and how to prevent it

Mental health

Anyone can have mental-health issues – but social or cultural factors can sometimes play a part. If you’re Hispanic and you’re struggling with your mental health, speaking to someone you trust is a good first step towards getting help. Some people find that seeing a healthcare professional who has a similar background to them can also help.

Key points

  • generally, Hispanic people originate from Spanish-speaking countries
  • if you’re Hispanic, you may be more at risk of certain cancers, heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • health risks can vary depending on which country you were born in and where you live
  • making positive lifestyle changes can help to minimise your risk
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