The Hispanic Mortality Paradox:

Beating the Odds and Living Longer Lives

Researchers have shown that socioeconomic disadvantages such as lower income, education levels, and healthcare access usually translate to shorter lifespans. Based on this research, U.S. Hispanics and Blacks (who have greater disadvantages compared to non-Hispanic whites) should have the highest death rates. But surprisingly, Hispanics are the ones defying the odds and living the longest – by age 80, the Hispanic death rate is 23% lower compared to that of non-Hispanic whites.

Older Hispanics are less likely to get fatal chronic diseases such as cancer, chronic lung disease, heart disease and stroke. They also have higher survival rates for cancer and cardiovascular disease, even though they have a higher risk for Type 2 Diabetes, and are just as likely to be obese as non-Hispanic whites.

So why are Hispanics living longer when they “should” be at a disadvantage? While researchers don’t have a definitive answer, two factors seem to be key:

1. Cultural support: Hispanics who are sick or injured have a strong network of social support through their family and faith. This may provide for a faster recuperation and a better state of mind through their illness.

2. The foreign-born advantage: The Hispanic paradox mostly applies to foreign-born Hispanics. They tend to behave in healthier ways (smoking and drinking less, eating more fresh foods) than U.S.-born Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites.

These health benefits are also one of the reasons why almost a third of non-elderly Hispanics lacked health insurance in 2011. They often feel healthy enough to forgo insurance.

The bottom line is that other ethnicities as well as U.S.-born Hispanics can learn a lot from these healthy habits and lifestyles. Likewise, foreign-born Hispanics should not take these advantages for granted. Studies show that second and third-generation Hispanics (U.S.-born children and grandchildren of foreign-born Hispanics) adopt certain unhealthy mainstream culture behaviors (such as smoking, fast food, etc.) at a similar rate as non-Hispanic whites and Blacks. These habits can quickly erode some of the health benefits that their parents and grandparents enjoy.

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jorgelo@thehangar.cr