New Numbers On Latino Life Expectancy

U.S. Hispanics outlive whites by more than two years and blacks by more than seven, according to the government's first calculation of Hispanic life expectancy. Host Michel Martin discusses the report with Jane Delgado, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Next to a perhaps surprising government study that shows that Latinos in this country, on average, outlive whites by more than two years, and African-Americans by, on average, more than seven years. The report is the first of its kind by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We wanted to dig more into these findings, so we've called Jane Delgado. She's president and CEO for the National Alliance of Hispanic Health. She holds a doctorate in psychology. And she's with us once again. Thanks so much for joining us.

Dr. JANE DELGADO (President, Chief Executive Officer, National Alliance for Hispanic Health): So glad to be here.

MARTIN: So, a couple of things that are interesting. First of all, this is the - one of the reasons that this is the first study of its kind is that Latinos generally haven't been separated out as part of these health studies. They're -as - of course, I think most people know, Hispanics can be of any race. But there was a decision to sort of separate out the life expectancy for Latinos, and then this finding emerged. Are you surprised by this?

Dr. DELGADO: No, I'm not surprised. And actually, remember that it wasn't until 1989 that the death certificate had a Hispanic identifier. So that was a big battle.

And then in the '90s, data started to come out, and there were trickling data showing Hispanics live longer. And, of course, nobody wanted to believe that because we have a view in this country that if you're a minority, you must be worse than. You must have - poorer than. You must be in a bad condition. Everyone knew that we had, you know, excess weight and diabetes and all these risk factors, didn't have health insurance. Surely, we couldn't be living longer.

But the CDC data is actually the landmark data which I hope is a tipping point to make people understand that people have good health habits. What happens is they lose them over time. It's not a genetic thing. It's something to do with our behaviors and how they change over time.

MARTIN: But to your point, though, I mean, it is true that more education does correlate with better health in this country. And in part, many people think: Could it be access to health insurance? And we know that Latinos are disproportionately under-insured or uninsured. And we also know that many Latinos are less educated relative to others in the population.

So, of course, this is the million-dollar question: Why is it the case that, according to this data, Latinos are, on average, living significantly longer?

Dr. DELGADO: Well, I would tell you that some of the things that are true is that we have - we're less likely to smoke. When we first arrive, we're less likely to be driving, and we're walking. We stay together as families and eat together, and all these things.

But over time, these good habits dissipate, because once you have more choices, we're human beings. We make bad choices. But I think the whole...

MARTIN: So less fast food.

Dr. DELGADO: Well, less...

MARTIN: Go ahead.

Dr. DELGADO: Less tobacco, major issue. More walking, okay, until we have cars and things like that. More eating together as a family at home, which is very important in social support, health, all sorts of things that are difficult to measure, but key to a healthy life. That's how come they tell people now: If you want to have teenagers who do well, have dinner with them at home every night.

MARTIN: One of the report's findings is - or hypotheses, I think it might be, is that Hispanics who emigrate to the U.S. are among the healthiest coming from their countries of origin. Do you think that that might be true?

Dr. DELGADO: That's true for all immigrants. That - actually, all immigrants do better than the first generation born here. Now, whether or not they're the healthiest, I'm not sure of that. They just come here hoping to work and do better for themselves, and things like that.

It may be also that they have a much more positive attitude about what the future holds for them. But it's complicated. You know, we, for example, knew that for many years regardless of income that for African-American women there was a high infant mortality rate.

Early on, they used to try to say well it's just low-income women. But then they said, no. Even when there's income and access we still have a problem. So what I'm hoping this data does is you know, let's look at the science questions. Let's look at what's going on in the individual and really re-think some of our, you know, things that we hold are fact for health.

For example, if you look at the data, one of the things that also concerned me was that for example, non-Hispanic black females, they live seven years longer than males. Now - and Hispanic women live longer than Hispanic males. Now both Hispanic women and African-American women are both, have excess weight, so there are things that we can't look at as clearcut as we like to think. Life is complex.

MARTIN: And what are some of the things that you would like to look at, going forward, that might be of benefit to, you know, the whole population?

Dr. DELGADO: Well exactly, that's how come, for us at the Alliance, our thing is best health outcomes for all. Look at that individual, take this big data that we have about groups, but narrow it down on that person: How they live. What support they have. How they eat. Whether they smoke. Whether they live in a toxic environment because of air, water or even the relationships around them.

MARTIN: Jane Delgado is president and CEO for the National Alliance of Hispanic Health and she was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studio once again. Thanks so much for joining us.

Dr. DELGADO: Of course.

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