Just a couple of weeks ago, I lost my uncle to an unexpected and undetected heart ailment that caused sudden cardiac arrest. He was still young, still active, still outwardly physically fit. Yet, he was the second family member we lost to heart disease this year alone, and the fourth since 2001. The pain runs as deep as the feelings of hopelessness and despair over lives that were taken too soon. But these are feelings that are known all too well within the Latino community here in the United States.
Overall, heart disease is the leading cause of death across the nation, partly because the causes are multifaceted, and partly because symptoms are often not manifested overtly until it is too late to take appropriate preventative action. Unfortunately, it is common for many to adopt a myopic stance with respect to understanding heart disease. For example, many individuals simply point to a person’s diet as the root cause for any underlying health issues (or lack thereof). As a result, too many in the community tend to disparage others for making what they see as “poor dietary choices.” Putting genetic factors aside, this perspective tends to be counterproductive towards fostering a greater awareness on systemic issues that plague the Latino community in particular, and hence, that increase the likelihood that Latinos will not receive proper treatment for cardiovascular issues.
One cannot have a meaningful discussion regarding health without acknowledging that, within the U.S. Latino community, there is a high rate of poverty. This is particularly salient amongst Latino youth under age 18. As a result:
Latinos in the U.S. are much more likely to be uninsured compared to any other ethnic group (and three times more likely to be uninsured compared to White counterparts).
Latino youth are much more likely to enter the labor force at an earlier age in an attempt to combat inter-generational poverty.
Living in poverty is highly correlated with exposure to psychosocial stressors and overall experience of stress, which are both leading factors in heart disease.
Living in poverty is negatively correlated with access to healthy nutrition and dietary selection. In essence, the experience of poverty limits both healthy consumption of proper foods and nutritional education.
It pains me to see so many of my fellow brothers and sisters go without the proper preventative care, particularly when a lack of access is at play. We must assume the challenge, as a community, to tackle and effectively resolve the existence of systemic poverty in this country. In the meantime, I urge all of you to take advantage of some of the following resources:
Para un Corazon Saludable, an initiative developed in conjunction with the National Hispanic Cardiology Leadership Network (NHCLN), a network of Latino cardiologists who serve the community.
The Para un Corazon Saludable hotline (1-866-SU-FAMILIA), where you can receive free information from bilingual specialists, as well as referrals to local health providers.