Hispanic/Latino Health

Young Hispanics Often Obese, at Risk for Heart Disease

July 9, 2014—(BRONX, NY)—The first large-scale study on body mass index (BMI) among U.S. Hispanics shows obesity is common among this group and is particularly severe among young Hispanics. Researchers also found that Hispanics with severe obesity are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The research, led by Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, was published online today in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA).

Robert Kaplan, Ph.D., at Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that obesity is common among U.S. Hispanics and is particularly severe among young Hispanics.
Robert Kaplan, Ph.D.
For U.S. Hispanics, the obesity epidemic “is unprecedented and getting worse,” said Robert Kaplan, Ph.D., lead author and professor of epidemiology & population health at Einstein. “Because young adults with obesity are likely to be sicker as they age, and have higher healthcare costs, we should be investing in obesity research and prevention.”

Researchers reviewed data from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, the landmark research study funded by the National Institutes of Health of 16,344 people of diverse Hispanic origin in four U.S. cities (Bronx, Chicago, Miami and San Diego).  Men were average age 40 and women were average age 41. People with Mexican roots were the largest group (about 37 percent of subjects), followed by those with Cuban (20 percent) and Puerto Rican (16 percent) backgrounds.

Overall, 18 percent of women in the study (nearly 1 in 5)  and 12 percent (about 1 in 8) of the men had levels of obesity that signal special concern about health risks, as defined by having a BMI above 35 (BMI is calculated based on height and weight).  The most severe class of obesity, (BMI>40, or for a person 5' 5" tall, body weight over 240 pounds) was most common among young adults between 25 and 34 years of age, affecting one in twenty men and almost one in ten women in this age group.  More than half those people had unhealthy levels of HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol, and of inflammation, as measured by a marker called C-reactive protein. About 40 percent had high blood pressure, and more than a quarter had diabetes.

“Because young adults with obesity are likely to be sicker as they age, and have higher healthcare costs, we should be investing in obesity research and prevention.”

-- Robert Kaplan, Ph.D.

“This is a heavy burden being carried by young people who should be in the prime of life,” Dr. Kaplan said. “Young people, and especially men—who had the highest degree of future cardiovascular disease risk factors in our study—are the very individuals who tend to neglect the need to get regular checkups, adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors, and seek the help of healthcare providers.”

The study also found that Hispanic women were more likely than men to be in the most severe level of obesity. Yet compared with the women, high blood pressure and diabetes—both risk factors for heart disease and stroke—appeared to be more tightly linked with severe obesity among men.

The findings for younger Hispanic adults, who are in their child-bearing and child-rearing years, suggest to Dr. Kaplan that healthcare providers should take a holistic, family approach to weight management. A host of biological and societal factors that affect parents’ weight could also affect their children, he said. More research is needed to better tailor weight management plans to Hispanic eating preferences and lifestyles in order to improve adherence.

The study is titled “Body mass index, sex and cardiovascular disease risk factors among Hispanic / Latino adults: Hispanic Community Health Study / Study of Latinos.” Study co-authors include: M. Larissa Avilés-Santa M.D., Ph.D.; Christina M. Parrinello, M.P.H.; David B. Hanna, Ph.D.; Molly Jung, M.P.H.; Sheila F. Castañeda, Ph.D.; Arlene L. Hankinson, M.D., M.S.; Carmen R. Isasi, M.D., Ph.D.; Orit Birnbaum-Weitzman, Ph.D.; Ryung S. Kim, Ph.D.; Martha L. Daviglus, M.D., Ph.D.; Gregory A. Talavera, M.D., M.P.H.; Neil Schneiderman, Ph.D.; and Jianwen Cai, Ph.D. The authors report no conflict of interest.

The Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos received support from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.