October 3, 2008

Latino Health: What the Numbers are Telling Us

With September coming to an end, it marks the end of Latino Health Awareness Month. Several events took place all across California to raise awareness and knowledge about the health issues affecting the Latino community. Many of these activities were sponsored by the Network for a Healthy California (www.cachampionsforchange.net/en/index.php) and included park festivals and healthy cooking demonstrations. Latino Health Awareness Month marks a time to reflect not only on your personal health choices but also the health of your community.

Community health encompasses the total physical, emotional, and environmental conditions of a community, and can directly affect the health of you and your loved ones. Unfortunately there are still great social, environmental, and economic inequalities that result in poor health conditions within the Latino population. As a result of these disparities, Latinos are more likely to be affected by preventable diseases such as diabetes, cervical cancer and AIDS/HIV. According to a 2005 survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke ranked in the top 5 leading causes of death in the Latino population.

Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Latinas suffer the highest rate of cervical cancer in California, and are far more likely to die from cervical cancer than White women.

Diabetes occurs when your body can’t produce enough insulin, the hormone needed to convert blood sugar into energy, or use it properly. There are three types of diabetes, however type 2 diabetes accounts for nearly 90-95% of all diabetes cases. Nearly 1 out of 5 Latino adults over 50 report having diabetes, which is the highest rate for all ethnic groups.

Heart disease and stroke are two forms of cardiovascular disease, both of which affect the heart by narrowing the arteries and reducing the amount of blood the heart gets making it work harder. Heart disease is the number one killer of Latinas in the United States.

Although family history does play a role, there are still things that you can do to prevent these health conditions. Early detection and lowering your risk factors are vital to preventing and managing cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Screenings are vital in detecting cancer, disease, heart disease and strokes as many of the symptoms are ‘silent.’

Also lowering the known risk factors for these diseases can help maintain if not prevent you from ever developing these conditions. The top risk factors include smoking, lack of exercise, a poor diet, not getting enough sleep and being overweight.

There are several steps you can rake to lower your risk:

1) Don’t smoke. Cigarette smokers are 2-4 times more likely to develop heart disease than nonsmokers. Cigarette smoking nearly doubles a person’s risk for stroke. According to the American Heart Association 21% of Latinos, and 11% of Latinas smoke. If you or a loved one are interested in learning how to quit, resources in both English and Spanish are available on the American Heart Association website: www.americanheart.org

2) Exercise. In 2004 only 23% of Latinos reported getting regular physical activity. 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise like walking, working in the garden or jogging greatly reduces the risk of chronic disease. Looking for a fun way to increase physical activity for you and your family? Check out the San Diego Prevention Research Center Community Resource Guide (www.sdprc.org) to find places where you can be active near you.

3) Eating. Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet by preparing it as a snack or as a substitute for a high fat dessert. Try to eat less fast food and other high fat, high sugar, and high salt snacks.

4) Sleep. Get 7-8 hours of sleep a day to keep your mind and body working properly. The body needs time to recuperate from the stressors of the day. People who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight, partly because they made poor decisions about what to eat and how to spend their free time.

This message is brought to you by SDPRC/Familias Sanas y Activas. For more info on our free physical activity programs in South Bay, please contact Sara Solaimani at 619-594-2965 or Liz Mejia at 619-594-2292.

Return to the Frontpage