Public Health Reducing Obesity-Related Health Disparities in Hispanic and Latino Populations in the United States
Noe Crespo, Melawhy Garcia, Alma Behar, Christina Holub, John P. Elder
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0105


Latinos are the largest “minority” group in the United States, even emerging as a majority population in some states. Latino children suffer from approximately 1.5 times the obesity rates of their non-Hispanic/white counterparts (see Holub, et al. 2013, cited under Reviews). At the same time, Mexico, the most prominent “sending country” of immigrants to the United States, has emerged as the world’s second most overweight nation, and will take first place soon should current trends continue (again, see Holub, et al. 2013). “Hispanic” and “Latino” are used interchangeably, referring primarily to individuals whose roots can be traced to those parts of the Americas initially colonized by Spain. The term “health disparities” refers to the poorer health outcomes experienced by disadvantaged groups that cannot be attributed to income discrepancies alone. 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 structural and environmental problems (such as environmental hazards or limited access to health care) that transcend individual risk. Language, poverty, discrimination and political marginalization, and inadequate education underlie many of the disparities Hispanics and Latinos suffer. The Hispanic health paradox asserts that even though most Hispanic subgroups in the United States are characterized by lower socioeconomic status, they still have better than expected health and mortality outcomes than other ethnic groups, which can be explained neither by the “healthy immigrant hypothesis” nor the “salmon hypothesis.” Nevertheless, these advantages are disappearing, as the emerging majority of Latinos are second generation or older and therefore match morbidity and mortality rates of other Americans, and countries of immigrant origin are suffering essentially from the same chronic disease rates as Americans. 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

Although somewhat dated, 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 2005 is a good social sciences primer while the emphasis in Barr 2008 is on health services and systems. Braveman, et al. 2010 examines health disparities across multiple income and education categories. Aguirre-Molina, et al. 2001 provides insight into disparities among Hispanics in the primary care setting. Pérez-Escamilla and Melgar-Quiñonez 2011, more broadly, examines the health of Latino Children.

  • Aguirre-Molina, M., Carlos Molina, and Ruth Enid Zambrana. 2001. Health issues in the Latino community. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

    This work, unlike Barr 2008 and LaVeist 2005, has as its sole emphasis Latino health and is oriented more 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.

    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 policymakers 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.

    DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2009.166082

    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.

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

    Includes discussion of Hispanic health in the context of all minorities in the United States. 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.

    Provides an excellent window on the future, not only in terms of Latino health, but also, 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.

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