September 15 – October 15th is National Hispanic Heritage Month but good heart health should always be top of mind. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer for all Americans and stroke is the fifth leading cause of death. Hispanics and Latinos, however, face even higher risks of cardiovascular diseases because of high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.
There is good news in the fact that a few simple lifestyle changes can reduce the chances of getting these diseases. Yet at the same time, many Hispanics and Latinos face hurdles when it comes to making those changes and accessing health care, including language barriers, lack of transportation and lack of health insurance.
Those factors can make early diagnoses and management of risks difficult. Hispanics are more likely to delay care, drop out of treatment when symptoms disappear and avoid visits to the doctor.
Here are some of the primary conditions affecting Hispanics and what you can do to lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.
High Blood Pressure
Hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke among Hispanics. Checking your blood pressure regularly is an important first step for understanding your risks. If it’s high, work with your doctor to create a treatment plan.
You can also lower your risk by maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet that focuses on fruit and vegetables and avoids excessive salt. If you do these things and are still unable to control your blood pressure, you will need to consult your physician and follow advice regarding medications to help lower blood pressure.
Obesity Is More Prevalent
Carrying extra weight is also a key risk factor for Hispanics. Eighty percent of Mexican-American men and 76 percent of women age 20 and older are overweight or obese.
That’s partly because of cultural influences, such as popular fatty foods such as refried beans and sour cream.
But environmental factors also play an important role. Both parents work in many Hispanic families, which means it can be hard to find time to prepare healthy meals. Any family with two working parents may find that $5 can get several hamburgers, but fruits and veggies are more expensive and take more time to prepare. It’s an issue of time and money.
Watching portion size, even for seemingly healthy foods, is important as well.
Diabetes Is Growing
An estimated 13 percent of Hispanic men and 11 percent of Hispanic women have diagnosed diabetes. Another 7 percent of men and 5 percent of women have diabetes, but don't realize it. Untreated, diabetes can lead to serious complications, including cardiovascular disease and renal failure. The prevalence of diagnosed diabetes in Hispanics over age 20 is greater than in non-Hispanic whites.
A family history of diabetes can be an important red flag signaling increased risks, but many of the risks for type 2 diabetes can be lowered with lifestyle changes and proper medical care.
“Make every effort to make healthy lifestyle changes. Family history is important, but even if your parents or other family has diabetes, you can eat right and exercise and reduce your risk.