Public Health Reducing Obesity-Related Health Disparities in Hispanic and Latino Populations in the United States
Noe Crespo, Alma Behar, Melawhy Garcia, John P. Elder
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0105


Hispanic and Latino populations in the United States evidence some of the worst health disparities, being challenged not only by chronic and infectious diseases, but also by community problems (environmental hazards, limited access to health care) that transcend individual risk. “Hispanic” and “Latino” are used interchangeably for the purposes of this article and refer to individuals whose roots can be traced to those parts of the Western Hemisphere initially colonized by Spain or Portugal (or in some cases to Iberians themselves who currently live in this hemisphere). The term “health disparities” refers to the poorer health outcomes experienced by disadvantaged groups. Language, poverty, discrimination and political marginalization, and inadequate education underlie many of the disparities Hispanics and Latinos suffer. Nevertheless, Hispanics and Latinos evidence certain positive health outcomes, a phenomenon labeled the Hispanic Health Paradox. This paradox contends that even though Hispanics and Latinos generally have a lower socioeconomic profile and less access to health care than do Whites/Anglos, they experience a lower mortality rate and morbidity in chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Hispanics and Latinos vary substantially in terms of socioeconomic and legal status, their country/region of origin, the nature of their sending/home or receiving community, their generational status and levels of acculturation, and a wide variety of psychosocial and demographic factors. Now the largest minority group in the United States and rapidly approaching majority status, a great deal of research and government reports have been devoted to understanding the causes and remediation of health disparities in this population.

General Overviews

Two of the best sources for health disparities among minorities in the United States in general are LaVeist 2005 and Barr 2008. Both include Hispanics in their analyses and so should be consulted for good general overviews. LaVeist is a good social sciences primer while the emphasis in Barr is on health services and systems. Braveman, et al. 2010 examines health disparities across multiple income and education categories. Ramos, et al. 2010; and Aguirre-Molina, et al. 2001 provide insight into disparities among Hispanics in the primary care setting. Pérez-Escamilla and Melgar-Quiñonez 2011, more broadly, examines the health of Latino Children. For a more focused overview of health disparities among Hispanics, including leading causes of death (based on census data from 2000), see Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2004.

  • Aguirre-Molina, M., Carlos Molina, and Ruth Enid Zambrana. 2001. Health issues in the Latino community. New York: Wiley.

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    This work, unlike Barr 2008 and LaViest 2005, has as its sole emphasis Latino health and is more oriented toward making specific changes in primary care and the community to improve the health and lives of Latinos.

  • Barr, Donald A. 2008. Health disparities in the United States: Social class, race, ethnicity, and health. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

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    Provides important updates to LaVeist 2005. The emphasis in this work is much more on health services and systems. A critical text for health management and policy researchers and for public health policy makers who structure primary care and hospital services for economically and culturally disadvantaged patients.

  • Braveman, Paula A., Catherine Cubbin, Susan Egerter, David R. Williams and Elsie Pamuk. 2010. Socioeconomic disparities in health in the United States: What the patterns tell us. American Journal of Public Health 100 (Suppl.): S186–S196.

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    Comprehensive article examining health disparities across multiple income and education categories in the United States using the most recent national data. Lowest-income categories and least-educated were consistently least healthy. Even groups with intermediate income and education were less healthy than the wealthiest and most educated. Gradient patterns were seen often among non-Hispanic blacks and whites but less consistently among Hispanics.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2004. Health disparities experienced by Hispanics–United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 53.40: 935–937.

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    Report on 2000 census data that gives general information on Hispanic health disparities in the United States. Provides statistics on leading causes of death, health risk factors, and other variables for Hispanics compared to non-Hispanic whites.

  • LaVeist, Thomas A. 2005. Minority populations and health: An introduction to health disparities in the United States. New York: Wiley.

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    Includes discussion of Hispanic health in the context of all United States minorities. LaVeist (in this and his many other publications) examines not only how poverty contributes to illness and inadequate health care but also broader sociological, geographic and other indicators. An important social sciences primer for researchers and students.

  • Pérez-Escamilla, R. and H. Melgar-Quiñonez, eds. 2011. At risk: Latino children’s health. Houston, TX: Arte Público.

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    Provides an excellent window on the future, not only in terms of Latino health, but, given demographic and economic changes in the United States, on health and illness in general. Emphasizes obesity, physical activity, nutrition and other precursors of chronic disease and disability in the context of poverty and societal changes.

  • Ramos, B. M., J. Jurkowski, B. A. Gonzalez, and C. Lawrence. 2010. Latina women: health and healthcare disparities. Social Work in Public Health 25.3–4: 258–271.

    DOI: 10.1080/19371910903240605E-mail Citation »

    Explores health conditions among Latina women who, despite advances in reproductive care and screening procedures, still experience inequities in healthcare insurance and utilization. Study findings indicate higher rates of diabetes and hypertension than reported for most groups overall and reasons for delaying seeking health care. (See also Women and Families.). Article available online for purchase or by subscription.

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