According to the National Council of La Raza, Hispanics represent one of the fastest growing segments of the population and according to the Census, they are expected to reach 30 percent of the total U.S. population by 2050. Childhood obesity and healthcare disparities continue to be a serious epidemic in the United States. Obesity is common among Hispanics and is severe particularly among Hispanic youth, according to research by the American Heart Association (AHA).

Obesity increases the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. The development of chronic diseases related to obesity can severely impact quality of life. The AHA’s recent study revealed that among Hispanics, the most severe class of obesity was most common among young adults between 25 and 34 years of age.

A growing epidemic

Between 52 and 58 percent of 18 to 24-year-old Hispanic women and men, respectively, were either overweight or obese. Of the more than 16,000 participants, about 40 percent of those struggling with obesity also had hypertension. The life expectancy in the current generation of children is projected to be the first in America to have a shorter life span than their parents. Hispanic preschool children are four times more likely to suffer from obesity than their non-Hispanic white counterparts.

"Hispanic preschool children are four times more likely to suffer from obesity than their non-Hispanic white counterparts."

The development of educational programs incorporating cultural influences would allow families to increase exercise, improve eating habits and decrease other risk factors that contribute to childhood obesity. Numerous programs — including First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” and the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) “Muevete USA” — are geared to improving the health of children. These programs concentrate on the understanding of nutrition and the importance of exercise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer and osteoarthritis. Educating children and the entire family is a high priority in improving the health of entire Hispanic communities. 

Healthcare disparities among the Hispanic population continue to exist for conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.  Hispanics have less awareness of the dangers from risk factors that lead to heart conditions and diabetes. Research has shown that the lack of awareness by Hispanics often results in full-blown disease without preventative treatment. 

Fostering healthy futures

Healthcare providers will need cultural diversity training to address the environmental factors that contribute to the development of chronic conditions that could impact cardiovascular function and quality of life.

The continued growth of the Hispanic populations in the United States will require healthcare practitioners to have cultural awareness training that will promote trust with the patient and family. Changes to established habits require behavior modifications that occur after a healthcare provider-patient relationship is established or motivation for change occurs. Programs to address childhood obesity and health disparities are needed now to improve the health of future Hispanic generations.