Heart Study Doubts 'Hispanic Paradox'

Refutes notion that they're at lower death risk

THURSDAY, April 25, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Is the "Hispanic paradox" a paradox in itself?

Over the years, doctors saw statistics showing that Hispanics were less likely than whites to die of heart disease. The so-called paradox was that this was so even though Hispanics had higher rates of diabetes and obesity -- two major risk factors for cardiovascular problems.

Now a new study questions whether such a paradox exists at all.

Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center studied a group of older Mexican Americans. After comparing them to older, non-Hispanic whites, the team concluded that Mexican Americans born in the United States were more likely to die of heart disease.

"I think it's important to refute the Hispanic paradox so we don't underestimate the burden of disease in Hispanics, especially because they are the largest growing population," says study author Kelly Hunt, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center.

Hunt presented the study findings today at the American Heart Association's Asia Pacific Scientific Forum in Honolulu.

Hunt says she believes the Hispanic paradox theory came about because researchers were using data from the U.S. Census and the National Death Index. She says because individuals were not studied, there were probably biases in the data. For instance, she says, their race may have been misclassified or immigrants could have returned home and died there, and weren?t counted in U.S. data.

Hunt and her colleagues tried to remedy these potential biases by following 1,700 individuals for almost 14 years. Eight hundred and forty five were U.S.-born Mexican Americans; 182 were Mexican Americans born in Mexico, and 678 were non-Hispanic whites from the U.S. The study participants were between 50 and 64 years old at the start of the study.

Researchers found that Mexican Americans born in the United States were 1.7 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than non-Hispanic whites. Cardiovascular disease includes coronary heart disease, stroke and other circulatory disorders.

Those born in Mexico who later emigrated to this country were 1.5 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than whites.

Hunt says she believes these higher rates of mortality are because of the higher rate of obesity and diabetes in Mexican Americans. According to the American Heart Association, Mexican Americans face almost twice the risk of diabetes that whites do.

"It doesn't surprise me that [Mexican Americans] are having more health problems as they adapt to the American lifestyle," says Dr. Andrew Hauser, director of the cardiac ultrasound lab at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., and president of the Detroit chapter of the American Heart Association. "No one can depend on their national heritage to keep them out of the hospital or the morgue."

"We all need to be cognizant of the things that increase our risk of heart disease," he says. That means no smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and watching your intake of saturated fats, Hauser says.

What To Do: Whatever your ethnicity, here are some tips for preventing heart disease from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of California at Berkeley.

SOURCES: Kelly Hunt, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio; Andrew Hauser, M.D., director, cardiac ultrasound lab, Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Mich., and president, Detroit chapter, American Heart Association; April 25, 2002, presentation, American Heart Association Asia Pacific Scientific Forum, Honolulu
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