Why studying Latino health as a whole doesn’t make sense

(Credit: Lori Shaull/Flickr)

Despite the substantial diversity among Latinos, national and state surveillance health surveys often treat the group as a monolithic entity. Researchers are calling for better, disaggregated data.

Latinos are the largest racial/ethnic minority group in the United States, representing 16.3 percent of the population and growing—coming from more than 25 countries in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

“The diversity of the Latino/Latina community poses unique challenges for clinicians and policymakers.”

Each Latino group has a unique sociopolitical history and different demographic, socioeconomic, acculturation, and settlement patterns that contribute to within-group variations in their health outcomes.

That’s just one reason why more investment is needed in research, funding, and policy to improve the collection and analyses of disaggregated health data for this growing and diverse US Latino population, finds the new report.

It calls for making health data of this population more specific by examining important subgroups differences that capture the diversity of the Latino population, including racial and ethnic (culture of origin) groups, nativity, acculturation, gender, age, and/or socioeconomic status.

For instance, as the authors point out, Puerto Ricans have the highest incidence of asthma in the US (16 percent), but Mexicans have the lowest prevalence among Latinos (5.4 percent)—with the average for Caucasians coming closer to the bottom end (7.7 percent).

The report offers 15 recommendations to advance Latino health data disaggregation across research, funding, policy, and priority area domains. Highlights include:

  • Develop clear guidelines for ethnic health data disaggregation and a standardized set of survey items that reflect the disaggregation types most relevant to the Latino community.
  • Invest in research training and mentoring programs at all stages of career development (e.g., high school, undergraduate, graduate, post-doctoral, junior faculty, mid-career) to support careers in Latino health research across the lifecourse.
  • Design, collect, and analyze disaggregated health data with consideration of the intersections of migration, ethnicity, and social conditions.
  • Support the inclusion of critical dimensions shaping the Latino population that go beyond demographic disaggregation characteristics and include language use, parental ancestry, generational status, racial identity, and documentation status.

“The diversity of the Latino/Latina community poses unique challenges for clinicians and policymakers,” says Leopoldo J. Cabassa, associate professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Understanding the sources of heterogeneity, and their association with health, will allow development and implementation of effective, culturally, and linguistically appropriate, health services and policies optimally designed to reduce health disparities in our communities.”

The report came out this month as part of Making the Case for Data Disaggregation to Advance a Culture of Health, a partnership between PolicyLink and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Coauthors are from Columbia University and Emory University.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis