Understanding Health Disparities in Our Hispanic Communities

As Vice Chairwoman of the Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board, I am especially interested in public health issues such as obesity and malnutrition. And as we commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month in the U.S., I think it’s important to take a closer look at the health issues affecting this particular community.

According to the U.S. Office of Minority Health, the percentage of obese and overweight children and adults is higher in Hispanic Americans than other populations:

This is no small matter since overweight and obesity bring along serious health risks, such as being more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats, diabetes, and LDL cholesterol – all risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

Social Disparities at the Heart of the Issue

Hispanics in the United States are faced with challenges such as affordable housing and gentrification, the digital divide, lack of trained family caregivers, economic insecurity, and food insecurity.

All of these factors contribute to the higher trend in obesity in U.S. Hispanic populations in several ways:

Lack of access to healthier food.

The availability of nutritious food at affordable prices in the local neighborhood – which is known as the food environment – significantly affects people’s health. According to Unidos US, Hispanic families are more likely to live in areas where access to healthy, affordable food is limited or nonexistent.

For example, counties with large Hispanic populations have a greater proportion of people identified as having low access to grocery stores (29%) compared to other counties (21%). This holds especially true for children and residents who are low-income.

Disparities in access to exercise.

Many people struggle to meet the federal physical activity guidelines, which suggest at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, with at least two days a week of muscle-strengthening activity.

Although some of the barriers are more personal (lack of self-discipline, being tired), some are related to access and social issues: lack of money to invest in a gym/exercise equipment, childcare, lack of a safe and convenient place to do exercise, cost and transportation are often cited as barriers to physical activity for the Hispanic population.

Language and communication challenges.

There may also be some language barriers to mainstream messages about health that aren’t getting through, as well as lack of targeted marketing to these communities. Nearly 6 in 10 Hispanic adults have had a difficult time communicating with a health care provider because of a language or cultural barrier.

When they do, they often turn to outside sources for help, according to a new study conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Along with communication challenges, many Hispanics are also concerned about language or cultural accommodations for people in their community who seek long-term care services.

Coming Together to Support Our Hispanic Communities

As a global leader in nutrition, we partner with organizations that support the health and wellness of our minority communities. The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) is an important partner of Herbalife Nutrition because they provide direct services to communities most in need.

We have partnered with NHCOA since 2014, supporting their health and nutrition programs, including residents of their senior housing facility Casa Iris, ensuring they have access to healthy nutrition through ongoing product donations that make good nutrition convenient. Since 2019, that has meant more than 2,200 meals and 5,000 servings of healthy snacks.

Furthermore, NHCOA recently became a partner of our Nutrition for Zero Hunger initiative, through which we continue to support NHCOA’s promotion of healthy aging for Hispanic older adults.

In many respects, the mission and purpose of Herbalife Nutrition and NHCOA align, specifically in the promotion of good nutrition and healthy living. In addition, support of our minority communities is an integral part of Herbalife Nutrition. Together, Herbalife Nutrition and NHCOA are striving to improve the lives of a growing Hispanic population by promoting education about the importance of good nutrition, physical activity, and community support.

Rocio MedinaM.D. – Vice Chairwoman and Member, Nutrition Advisory Board

Dr. Medina is a former professor of nutrition and obesity. She and her colleagues founded the Medical College of Surgeons and Professionals in Obesity and Clinical Nutrition at Nuevo León in 2000, where she served as president from 2009 to 2010. Previously, she served as medical coordinator of the Ministry of the Preventive Police Force of Monterrey. She has also been in private practice in Mexico since 1994.