SOURCES: Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Kenneth Dominguez, M.D., M.P.H., medical epidemiologist, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; May 5, 2015, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
TUESDAY, May 5, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Hispanics in the United States carry very different health risks than whites and face a tougher time getting needed medical care, according to a new federal report.
Similar to whites, the two leading causes of death among Hispanics are heart disease and cancer, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in its first national study of Hispanic health issues.
But Hispanics are much more likely than whites to die from diabetes, homicide, or chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, the CDC researchers found. They also are more likely to be obese.
The good news is that Hispanics have an overall 24 percent lower death rate than whites, as well as lower death rates for nine of the 15 leading causes of death. These include cancer, heart disease, injuries, stroke, respiratory disease, Alzheimer's disease and suicide.
This phenomenon is known as the "Hispanic paradox," since this population is poorer and less likely to have access to health care, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said during a Tuesday media briefing on the report. The paradox likely is related mainly to lower smoking rates among Hispanics, he added. Overall, about 14 percent of Hispanics smoke compared with 24 percent of whites.
"Some areas of health are better among Hispanic populations, some are worse, but all can be improved," Frieden said.
Hispanics have much less access to health care than whites. They are almost three times as likely to be uninsured as whites, the CDC found, and are less likely to have had screening tests for breast, cervical and colon cancer.
The CDC analysis is published in the May 5 issue of the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Nearly one in six people living in the United States is Hispanic -- almost 57 million people -- and this is projected to increase to nearly one in four (more than 85 million) by 2035.
The CDC's researchers combined data from several national health surveys to paint a broad picture of the unique health challenges that Hispanics face in the United States.
Compared to whites, Hispanics are:
The researchers found that Hispanics born in the United States tend to be in worse health than foreign-born Hispanics now living here. U.S.-born Hispanics have 30 percent more obesity than immigrant Hispanics, 40 percent more high blood pressure, 72 percent more smoking, 89 percent more heart disease and 93 percent more cancer.
"It has a lot to do with the types of foods that are marketed towards folks -- for example, sugary drinks, fatty foods, the biggie sizes of various fast-food outlets," said Dr. Kenneth Dominguez, lead author of the report and a CDC medical epidemiologist.
Frieden added, "One thing that's clear -- it's not genetics. People's genes don't change when they come to this country. We find that the longer people stay in this country, the longer the factors in our environment that may promote obesity or increase smoking rates may influence their health."
Hispanics also face greater difficulties receiving good medical care. More than 41 percent of Hispanics lack health insurance, compared with 15 percent of whites, and they are much less likely to have screening tests that can detect or prevent early forms of cancer.
Social and economic matters may pose additional barriers to health care. About one in three Hispanics has limited English proficiency, one in four lives below the poverty line, and about one in three has not completed high school, the report said.
To further complicate matters, health risks can vary between different Hispanic subgroups.
For example, nearly 66 percent more Puerto Ricans smoke than Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans suffer nearly twice as much cancer and heart disease compared with Mexicans, the CDC found.
Dominguez said Hispanics who want to improve their health should sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
They should also eat a healthy diet and avoid smoking, follow their doctor's advice and get all recommended health screenings, he said.
For more about Hispanic American health issues, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.