MINORITY HEALTH: Culture, Health Outcomes Need More Attention
Los Angeles County's large Latino population could be a gift to area medical researchers, Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, a professor of medicine and director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at UCLA, asserts in a Los Angeles Times column. Hayes-Bautista says that recent reports from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services on the health of the city's residents show diversity to be "one of the best things that ever happened to the health of the region." However, Hayes-Bautista asserts that the area's "vaunted medical research institutions and its world-renowned health delivery systems haven't the foggiest clue about how to take advantage of this gift." Accounting for nearly half of the county's population, Latinos have fewer heart attacks, cancers and strokes than whites or African Americans, according to the health services reports. In addition, the reports found that Latinos have fewer low birth-weight infants and have a lower infant mortality rate. Hayes-Bautista points out that Latinos have a healthy profile despite having higher risk factors, including lower income, lower education levels, and lower access to health care and health coverage. While the exact cause is unknown, Hayes-Bautista attributes the paradox to cultural factors. "Latino habits of the heart -- food, family, prayer, fun -- lead to good health outcomes," he asserts. Noting that "much of official Washington" has overlooked the influence of culture on health, Hayes-Bautista says that "[u]nderstanding the role culture plays in health care is in its infancy." He refers to a recent American College of Physicians report that states, "One in three Latinos is uninsured. Like the rest of the population without insurance, they tend to live sicker and die younger." However, Hayes-Bautista points out that in Los Angeles, "Latinos have one of the longest life expectancies and lowest disease burdens, in spite of their lack of insurance." According to Hayes-Bautista, Los Angeles' medical research facilities "have yet to realize they are sitting on a gold mine for 21st century U.S. medicine" as the area is a "living laboratory for understanding the linkage between culture and health." While "Houston is famous for its heart procedures and Boston for the New England Journal of Medicine," Hayes-Bautista concludes, "The Southland can be equally famed for revealing the relation between health and culture, with the region's diversity as backdrop" (8/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.