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Commemorate Hispanic Heritage through an Awareness of Social Determinants of Health

Thursday, September 15, 2016   (0 Comments)
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Hispanics continue to have a profound presence, throughout the history of this nation. Their commitment to family, faith, hard work, and service is deeply embedded in the American culture. Despite commendable triumphs, disparities continue to exacerbate the health of Hispanic populations. Compared to non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics suffer disproportionately from health disparities such as: higher rates of obesity, chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes, asthma), infant mortality, and HIV/AIDS. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has cited some of the leading causes of illness and death among Hispanics are chronic diseases.

Each year Americans honor the contributions of Hispanics during National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15th-October 15th). As Americans commemorate Hispanic heritage, it is essential to recognize that Hispanic health is often shaped by the dynamic interactions of socio-cultural barriers.2 According to the US Census Bureau’s Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in US: 2012 report, the socioeconomic status of Hispanics is lower than non-Hispanic Whites. While there have been encouraging improvements, Hispanics still lag other race/ethnic groups in higher education attainment. Low educational attainment is a persistent barrier for Hispanics to receive timely and appropriate healthcare.

Although Hispanics have higher rates of labor force participation, Hispanics still have a higher chance of suffering from economic hardships. In 2013, the US Census Bureau reported that among full-time year-round workers, the average Hispanic median household income was lower than non-Hispanic Whites. The data also revealed that Hispanics were living at the poverty level, more than double the rate of non-Hispanic Whites. Hispanics' low socioeconomic status and occupational characteristics are associated with low rates of health insurance coverage. The impacts of living in a low-income household also increase exposure to food insecurity and obesity.

Immigrant-related challenges tend to be a source of stress and anxiety. One study found that fear of deportation, may discourage undocumented immigrants from seeking assistance for: employment, health, and language barriers. Moreover, language barriers hinder health literacy, patient-provider communication, and have been associated with inadequate utilization of healthcare services.

The social determinants of health can be described by a Social Ecological Model (SEM). This holistic approach posits that behavior is determined by the interplay of the following factors: intrapersonal, interpersonal, organizational, community, and policy. The SEM can leverage cultural competency. The intrapersonal level reveals that perceived risk factors (e.g., fear of deportation) can impact an awareness of healthcare resources. The interpersonal level reveals that deeply ingrained in the Hispanic culture is familism. The emphasis familism places on interconnectedness and social support correlates with positive psychological health outcomes. The SEM can also leverage strategies aimed to mitigate poor health outcomes among Hispanics. For the organizational level, focus on ensuring staff has resources to adequately adhere to Hispanic health needs (e.g., interpretation services). Within the community level, maximize community resources through partnerships to expand access to community health worker and patient navigators. Last, within the policy level, incentivize provider performance for developing strategies to address language barriers. 

In order to build a future for all Americans in this country, honor the presence of the Hispanic culture with an objective to address the social determinants of health. Visit the US Office of Minority Health to learn more about programs and partnerships to improve health outcomes for Hispanics.

Participate in NACDD President’s Health Equity Challenge by signing the health for all pledge. For strategies to partner with Hispanic serving institutions and incorporate health equity into chronic disease and health promotion programs in your state, contact Steve Owens at