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Obesity a Serious Problem Among U.S. Latinos, Especially the Youth

Obesity is common among Hispanics in the U.S. and is especially serious among young Hispanics.

Obesity is common among Hispanics in the U.S. and is especially serious among young Hispanics, according to studies published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA).

The first large-scale data collection on the body mass index (BMI) and risk factors for cardiovascular disease among Hispanic/Latino communities in the U.S. suggests that serious obesity may be linked to a considerably higher risk of cardiac disease.

Epidemic obesity among Hispanics in the U.S. “has no precedent and is getting worse”, said Dr. Robert Kaplan, main author of the studies and professor of epidemiology and public health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

“Since obese young adults are likely to suffer a larger number of illnesses as they grow older, and are also likely to incur in higher medical expenses, we should invest heavily in the research and prevention of obesity as if the future of our nation depended on it.”

Researchers reviewed data from a study of 16,344 Hispanics of different national origins in four U.S. cities (The Bronx, Chicago, Miami, and San Diego). The average age for men was 40 and 41 for women. The largest group (close to 37 per cent of subjects) was of Mexican origin, followed by persons of Cuban origin (20 per cent) and from Puerto Rico (16 per cent).

In general, 18 percent of women and 12 percent of men in the study showed obesity levels indicating special concern about health risks, defined as a BMI higher than 35 (BMI is based on weight and height). The most serious type of obesity (BMI>40, or more than 240 pounds for a person 5’5” high) appeared more frequently among young adults between 25 and 34 years old. In this age group it affects one out of 20 men and approximately one out of 10 women.

More than half of these persons had harmful HDL cholesterol levels (the “good” cholesterol) measured by a C-reactive protein marker, said Kaplan. Close to 40 per cent had high blood pressure, and more than one fourth suffered from diabetes.

“This is a heavy load for these young people, who should be in the prime of life”, said Kaplan. “Young people, especially men (who in our study had the highest level of risk factors for future cardiovascular disease), are precisely the ones who tend to ignore the need to have regular medical checkups, to adopt a healthy lifestyle and to seek help from healthcare professionals.”

The study also showed that Hispanic women have a higher probability than men of finding themselves at the most serious obesity level.

However, compared to women, serious obesity in men seems to be more closely linked to high blood pressure and diabetes (both of which are risk factors for cardiac disease and strokes).

The results concerning young Hispanics of childbearing age suggest to Kaplan that healthcare professionals should adopt an integral family strategy for weight control. A multitude of biological and social factors that affect the parents’ weight could have repercussions on their children, said Kaplan.

Co-authors of the study were M. Larissa Avilés-Santa M.D., Ph.D.; Christina M. Parrinello, M.P.H.; David B. Hanna, Ph.D.; Molly Jung, M.P.H.; Sheila F. Castañeda, Ph.D.; Arlene L. Hankinson, M.D., M.S.; Carmen R. Isasi, M.D., Ph.D.; Orit Birnbaum-Weitzman, Ph.D.; Ryung S. Kim, Ph.D.; Martha L. Daviglus, M.D., Ph.D.; Gregory A. Talavera, M.D., M.P.H.; Neil Schneiderman, Ph.D.; y Jianwen Cai, Ph.D. Author statements appear in the original. 

The Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos) was sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Additional resources:

Las declaraciones y las conclusiones de los autores de los estudios publicados en las revistas científicas de la American Heart Association son exclusivamente aquellas de los autores del estudio y no reflejan necesariamente la política o posición de la Asociación. La Asociación no afirma ni garantiza su exactitud o confiabilidad. La Asociación recibe financiamiento principalmente de personas físicas; determinadas fundaciones y corporaciones (que incluyen empresas farmacéuticas, fabricantes de dispositivos y otras empresas) también hacen donaciones y financian programas y eventos específicos de la Asociación. La Asociación se rige por políticas estrictas para impedir que estas relaciones influyan en el contenido científico. Los ingresos provenientes de las corporaciones farmacéuticas y de fabricación de dispositivos se encuentran disponibles en

Published with permission from the American Heart Association.

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