Opinion: Obesity, lack of preventive care a threat to Hispanics, Latinos

By Gretchen Hammer

Infographic by Sarah Mapes

The beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month creates the opportunity to reflect on the history and experiences of Hispanic and Latino Coloradans. Colorado has a rich Hispanic heritage with early settlers from Spain and Mexico establishing strong roots and thriving communities across the state in our early history.

Today, according to the U.S. Census, over 1 million Hispanic and Latino residents live in Colorado, comprising our largest racial or ethnic group. Hispanic and Latino are ethnicities, referring to persons of Spanish or Latin culture or origin, regardless of race. The 2010 U.S. Census accounts for the diverse backgrounds of Hispanics and Latinos by including several response categoriesMexican, Mexican American, Chicano, Puerto Rican and Cubanas well as the ability to write in a different origin. In Colorado, a large majority of Hispanics and Latinos, 77 percent, are of Mexican descent; the rest are of Spanish, Central American, Puerto Rican or some other country of descent.

Last year, the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved published a series of issue briefs that explored the links between the social determinants of health, like educational attainment, income, race, access to health care and health insurance.

A closer look at the health and health care experiences of Hispanic and Latino Coloradans reveals troubling inequities. One in four (26 percent) Hispanic and Latino Coloradans report that they are in fair or poor health, compared to 14 percent of all Coloradans. In addition, Hispanic and Latino Coloradans are twice as likely to live in poverty, twice as likely to be uninsured and 3.5 times as likely not to graduate from high school compared to all Coloradans.

Poverty, lower educational attainment, being uninsured, as well as other factors affect Hispanic and Latino Coloradans health in many ways. Hispanic and Latino Coloradans are less likely to access important preventive care such as cancer screenings, cholesterol checks and immunizations than Coloradans in general.

Additionally, obesity is a significant health concern for Hispanic and Latino Coloradans. Two-thirds of Hispanic and Latino adults are overweight compared to 56 percent of Colorado adults. Similarly, the difference in childhood obesity rates is substantial; in Colorado, one quarter of all Hispanic and Latino children are obese compared to 8 percent of white children.

The relationships between obesity, income, culture, food choices and exercise are complex. Limited resources, a lack of access to healthy, affordable foods, fewer opportunities for physical activity, cultural norms and traditions, stress, environmental influences and access to health care are all components of this complex relationship. In Colorado, Hispanic and Latino Coloradans report eating fewer fruits and vegetables and exercising less than the Colorado average and less than what is recommended for maintaining a healthy weight.

Colorado has made a commitment to become the healthiest state in the nation. We are pursuing this commitment by promoting prevention and wellness, expanding coverage, access and capacity, and improving the quality and value of health care. In order to achieve our goals, we must address the current inequities in our health care system so that Hispanic and Latino Coloradans can maximize their health and continue to contribute their rich and vibrant culture that we celebrate this month.

Gretchen Hammer is the executive director of the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved.

Access the infographic at www.ccmu.org/hispanics.

Opinions communicated in Solutions represent the view of individual authors, and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado system.