First-of-its-kind Study Reveals Differences in Cardiovascular Risk Factors Among U.S. Hispanics

Style Magazine Newswire | 10/17/2016, 12:55 p.m.
Ramona Santana signed up right away when a woman came to her door to recruit her for a study about ...
Ramona Santana at the Hispanic Community Health Survey/Study of Latinos research clinic in the Bronx.

Ramona Santana signed up right away when a woman came to her door to recruit her for a study about the health of U.S. Hispanics and Latinos.

The 63-year-old has Type 2 diabetes and hopes researchers find a cure.

“Almost everyone [I know] has diabetes,” said Santana, a retired factory worker who lives in the Bronx, New York. “We should at least allow that they search our immune system thoroughly so that they can find a cure for that disease, because it is very hard.”

Santana takes pride in being part of the study. “Improving quality of health is improving the quality of life,” said Santana, a native of the Dominican Republic who moved to the United States 41 years ago. Her 80-year-old husband Miguel Santana also participates in the project, called the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, or HCHS/SOL.

For nearly a decade, dozens of cardiovascular researchers have benefited from health data provided by the Santanas and more than 16,000 other adults recruited for the National Institutes of Health-funded research project.

Investigators sought participants of Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, South American and Central American heritage for what is the first long-term study to look exclusively at the health of the largest ethnic group in the United States. Nearly 80 percent of the participants, who were recruited in the Bronx, Chicago, San Diego and the Miami area, are immigrants from Latin America.

Researchers at health centers in those cities are in the midst of collecting follow-up information about issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, surgeries, diet, exercise habits, income and education level.

For scientists who study cardiovascular disease and its risk factors, the information has been a boon.

It has allowed them to better understand how Hispanics of different ethnicities are affected by problems that can lead to heart disease, the second-leading cause of death among U.S. Hispanics, and stroke, the fourth-leading cause of death among them. The project has also allowed researchers to compare the health of Hispanic immigrants with U.S.-born Hispanics.

Most compelling have been the findings for diabetes and obesity, two of the leading risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show Hispanics are more likely than whites to have diabetes: 12 percent of Hispanics are diabetic compared with 8 percent of whites. But the rates among some Hispanic ethnic groups appear to be much higher, based on studies using data from HCHS/SOL.

Diabetes researcher Neil Schneiderman, Ph.D., the lead investigator at the HCHS/SOL Miami site, recently led a study that found adults of South American heritage have the lowest rate of diabetes. Only about 10 percent of them have diabetes compared with about 18 percent of persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican or Dominican background.

The gap is on par with the prevalence difference between white and black Americans. Diabetes is almost twice as common among blacks compared with whites, CDC data show.

“We have the same set of differences, same magnitude between one group of Hispanics and another,” said Schneiderman, a professor at the University of Miami’s College of Arts and Sciences.