For 40 years, researchers have unsuccessfully tried to explain — or debunk — the “Hispanic Paradox,” the finding that Hispanic Americans live several years longer than white Americans on average, despite having far less income and health care and higher rates of diabetes and obesity. Now, armed with more comprehensive data, powerful genomic tools, and a rich cultural awareness of the communities they study, a new generation of scientists is finally making headway.
These researchers, many Hispanic themselves, are boring down on the paradox, trying to understand which parts hold up, which don’t, and how it’s evolving as immigration patterns shift. They are also looking at what the survival edge can teach us about further improving the health of Hispanics, who make up nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population, and improving health for the rest of the country as well.
They’re finding that for Hispanics, living longer does not necessarily mean living healthier, and that lumping together people from places as varied as Brazil, Mexico, and Puerto Rico conceals important health risks for these individual populations, which may as a result go unnoticed by many American physicians. They’re also finding that healthy Hispanics who immigrate to the U.S. tend to get sicker the longer they stay — raising deeper questions about why our wealthy nation, which spends more than $4 trillion on health care, is far sicker than it should be.
“Part of the story about the Hispanic Paradox,” said Kyriakos S. Markides, a professor of aging at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, “is that the non-Hispanic white population is not doing as well as it should.” [Continue reading…]