The Latino population in America have a higher prevalence of obesity and it is important that clinicians treating these patients understand the causes of this epidemic. With data showing that one in every four Latinos are now obese, regardless of their age, we have to start finding ways to combat this ever-increasing problem in order to help patients become healthier and find ways to prevent further health disparities including diabetes and heart disease.
Research has proven that Latino adults are more obese than their black, white or Asian peers of the same age by a difference of .2%, 9.1% and 34.3% respectively. Additionally, Latino children have also been found to be more obese than their peers. Studies have also shown that Latinos have the second highest obesity rate among minority groups in the US. Discovering the causes behind these findings is vitally important so that we may promote healthy lifestyles and health eating habits in the Latino community.
Clinicians should take into consideration the changes that some Latinos who migrate to the U.S. encounter and cultural and social factors that impact health access and literacy. Many native Spanish-speakers experience significant difficulties interacting with others outside of their culture due to the language barrier. It has been proven that there is a “failure to differentiate among Latino subgroups, inadequate measures of acculturation, and limited theoretical grounding in the immigrant integration literature” (Social Science and Medicine). Within the Latino community, there are many different subgroups with various backgrounds and cultural diversity that makes it difficult to provide literature that is comprehensive for every demographic. Unless patient materials are written in that the patients can comprehend, the information is useless. This is why its important to have interpreters or bilingual staff available when needed during hospital visits.
- There are other socioeconomic factors that play into the cycle of obesity in the Latino community. Many Latinos are stigmatized as low-wage earners and studies show that implicit bias can play a role in the quality of care these patients receive. A study by the Commonwealth Fund found 33% of Hispanic patients reported having communication issues during a recent doctor visit. Comparatively, 27% of Asian Americans, 23% of African Americans, and 16% of Caucasians reported communication problems during a recent HCP visit. African Americans (16%) and Hispanics (18%) were most likely to feel they had been treated with disrespect during a health care visit. Their reasons for feeling this way often were related to aspects of communication—the patient thought he or she was spoken to rudely, talked down to, or ignored. These types of experiences can create psychological issues causing patients to be on compliant, to stress eat or eat because they are depressed.
Acculturation is certainly a key factor when considering the causes behind Latino obesity. For immigrants arriving in the United States, not only is there assimilation in regards to social aspects, but there is also an assimilation of cultural food changes, as well. Latinos who formerly were able to purchase fresh produce in their homelands are exposed to more processed foods and high-fat fast foods within the US. Additionally, socioeconomic factors play a role in eating habits, as it may be difficult for low-wage earners to afford groceries that are healthier to consume, such as vegetables and fruit. Socioeconomic factors play a role in whether there is a shortage of appropriate shopping outlets, such as grocery stores, offering fresh produce at affordable prices in neighborhoods that are predominantly Latino. Unfortunately, more often convenience stores are prevalent in these neighborhoods supplying a plethora of highly processed foods that are easy to grab and go, thereby contributing to the obesity problem.
One of the biggest issues with diet is the amount of sugars found in American food. Latino diets generally do not consist of nearly the amount of sugar consumed in a daily American diet. The American diet is generally low in healthy ingredients such as protein, fiber and natural flavoring, thereby compounding the healthy diet dilemma. Additionally, there needs to be information readily available for the Latino community regarding portion sizes and options for a healthier alternative to high-fat, high-sugar, processed foods.
The only way to overcome the obesity disparities in the Latino community is making sure patients and caregivers have access to health foods, information, and the the tools necessary to modify behavior including those that help remove linguistic barriers. Better food options, daily exercise and community involvement is helpful in sustaining a more active and healthy lifestyle. Meaningful cultural conversations can help increase trust and the efficacy of treatment plans. With Latinos being the fastest growing population in the U.S. it’s important that we identify opportunities to help curb the obesity epidemic which is associated with heart failure, hypertension, and diabetes.
- Is Acculturation Related to Obesity in Hispanic/Latino Adults? Results from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos
- Body Image in Hispanic/Latino vs. European American Adolescents: Implications for Treatment and Prevention of Obesity in Underserved Populations
- Durational and generational differences in Mexican immigrant obesity: Is acculturation the explanation?
- Report: With Obesity at All-Time High, Latinos Fare Worst
- Obesity in Latino Communities