Puerto Ricans' health lags behind other Hispanics

Among the 54 million Hispanic adults living in the United States, Puerto Ricans fare the worst when it comes to physical and mental ills, a new review finds.

Puerto Rican adults living in the United States appear to have the worst health among not only their Hispanic peers, but also compared with non-Hispanic Americans, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds.

The researchers note that considering there are 54 million Hispanic Americans — making them the nation’s largest minority group — “data on Hispanic subgroups are needed to understand the health of Hispanic persons of diverse backgrounds.”

The new report is based on 2010-2014 data from a major federal government survey of Americans' health. A team led by Jacqueline Lucas, of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), looked at the health of four Hispanic subgroups: Puerto Ricans, and Americans of Cuban, Mexican or Central or South American descent.

Overall, Hispanic adults as a group tended to report "fair or poor health" more often than their non-Hispanic American peers, at about 17 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

Jacqueline Lucas, a health statistician and lead author of the report, said the snapshot gives her and her CDC colleagues a starting point to further analyze the data by characteristics such as age, education and insurance coverage to determine why Puerto Ricans appear to have worse health than other Hispanic groups.

“It’s good to be able to look at as much diversity as we can in the Hispanic population,” said Lucas, who over two decades at the CDC has focused her research on minorities, health disparities and immigrant health.

But significant differences emerged when the CDC team looked at specific subgroups of Hispanic Americans. Puerto Ricans appeared to have the worst health. Just over 19 percent of Puerto Ricans surveyed said they were in fair-to-poor health. That number dropped to 17 percent of Mexican-Americans, 15 percent of Cuban-Americans, and 12 percent of those of Central and South American descent, the study found.

The percentage of Puerto Ricans who had battled multiple chronic conditions; ailments such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma or arthritis; was also much higher.

For example, while about 17 percent of survey respondents of Central or South American descent said they had multiple conditions that figure rose to more than 27 percent for Puerto Ricans, the findings showed.

Puerto Ricans were also more likely to say that health issues had curtailed their ability to work, compared with people from other Hispanic subgroups.

Mental health issues were also higher for Puerto Ricans: 6 percent said they had experienced some form of "serious psychological distress" over the past month, compared to 3 percent of Central or South American adults.

According to CDC researchers, “although the Hispanic population in the United States may share a common language, there is considerable variation among subgroups in terms of cultural background, socioeconomic status, and care-seeking behaviors.” The findings, they wrote, “highlight the importance of considering Hispanic subgroups when examining Hispanic health.”

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