Health Power: What do you consider the three greatest health conditions of Hispanics in the U.S., and why?
Dr. Rios: The three health conditions I consider most important for Hispanics in the U.S. are: Diabetes, Obesity, and Hepatitis C, and here’s why:
Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes, which is the most common type of diabetes, is rampant in Hispanic communities and has very serious complications when it’s not kept under control, such as blindness and amputations. That’s why it’s so important that there be increased awareness among Hispanics about pre-diabetes as well as diabetes since when pre-diabetes is diagnosed and managed properly, diabetes can be prevented.
As you know, pre-diabetes occurs when a person’s blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. However, he or she is at higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems including heart disease, and stroke. Without lifestyle changes, like eating healthy and having enough regular exercise, many people with pre-diabetes have an increased risk of developing diabetes in 5 years.
Obesity: I mention obesity after diabetes because these two conditions are so closely related to each other. In fact, more than 8 out of every 10 adults who develop Type 2 diabetes are obese. Therefore, not becoming obese, or losing weight if you’re already obese might significantly decrease your risk of developing diabetes.
The two things that are most helpful for preventing and controlling overweight and obesity are: eating healthy and having enough regular physical activity. Eating healthy means eating 5 fruits and vegetables a day, and eating less fat, less foods with trans fats, less sugar and foods and drinks with high sugar content, and less “fast foods”.
It’s also important that special attention be given to avoiding childhood and teen obesity because children and teenagers who are obese are likely to become obese adults.
Hepatitis C: This condition, which is caused by the Hepatitis C virus, is especially harmful to Hispanics, or Latinos because its prevalence, or rate, is much higher among Hispanics than in the overall U.S. population, and the rate is increasing more rapidly in Hispanics. In addition, the mortality, or death rate, from hepatitis C is higher in Hispanics.
The increasing rate of Hepatitis c in Hispanics may be due to the fact that Hepatitis C can have no symptoms for years, which is why many people with this infection are less likely to be screened for it. In fact, that’s why this disease is often called All Hispanics need to know that Hepatitis C is preventable, and can be treated. Knowing ones Hepatitis C status is the first step to both connecting infected persons to treatment, and to preventing the disease from spreading.
It’s also important to know that Hepatitis C is the leading cause of chronic liver disease (cirrhosis), liver cancer, and the need for liver transplantation, and that it is most common among baby boomers, meaning people born between 1945 and 1965.
Because of the negative impact of these three conditions on the Hispanic community, the National Hispanic Medical Association is actively addressing all three.
Dr. Rios is also CEO, Hispanic-serving Health Professions Schools, Inc, which organization is committed to improving the health care of Hispanics. She also serves on the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda; Board of the Partnership for Prevention; and as Co- Chair of the Hispanic Health Coalition.
Dr. Rios earned undergraduate degrees and an MS degree from Stanford University and UCLA School of Public Health, and her M.D. degree from UCLA School of Medicine. She then served an NIH fellowship focusing on access to care for minorities, and management skills among family practice physicians.