Hispanic Americans represent 17.6 percent of the present U.S. population, or about 56.6 million people. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central-American or other Spanish culture or origin are projected to comprise 28.6 percent of the U.S. population by the year 2060, or about 119 million individuals. This growing group of Hispanic Americans faces significant health concerns that put them at high risk for both heart disease and diabetes.
Heart disease is the second-biggest killer of Hispanic Americans each year, accounting for nearly 21.5 percent of deaths. Approximately 57 percent of Hispanic Americans are affected by high blood pressure. An estimated 2.5 million Hispanic Americans age 20 or older have been diagnosed with the disease. In addition, Hispanics are almost twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with diabetes by a physician.
Hispanic Americans at risk for developing heart disease or diabetes can take steps to protect their health and reduce their chances of developing serious complications. Here are some tips:
• Find a doctor who understands your culture, and even speaks Spanish if that makes you more comfortable. See your doctor for regular check-ups and establish a good working relationship.
• Keep your blood pressure at or below 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). High blood pressure (140/90 mm Hg or higher) can start at any age and is often hereditary.
• Check your cholesterol to make sure it stays below 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter of blood). A cholesterol reading 250 mg/dL or higher more than doubles the risk of coronary heart disease compared to a lower level.
• Control your weight and lose weight if you are obese or overweight. Ask your doctor to calculate your body mass index, which should be between 19 and 25. A man’s waist should be less than 40 inches and a woman’s waist should be less than 35 inches.
• Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Bake, broil, grill, steam, boil or poach food instead of frying. Flavor foods with salsa, picante sauce, cilantro, cumin or pepper, and limit the use of salt, cheese, sausage (chorizo or salchicha), high-fat meats (chicharrón or cuerito) and whole milk.
• Be physically active and add at least 30 minutes of exercise to your daily routine. Pick an activity you enjoy or find a sport you can do with your family.
• Stop smoking. Smokers run higher risks of developing heart and lung diseases, as well as stroke and cancer. Breathing second-hand smoke increases the risk of health problems for nonsmokers. Smoking can make asthma worse and cause coughing, wheezing and ear infections in children.
For more information on diabetes care services at Carondelet Holy Cross Hospital, call (520) 285-3000 or see cardonelet.org.
(Gallegos is a diabetes educator at Carondelet Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales.)