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Hispanics shown to live longer in study
Melissa Wylie / Senior Staff Writer
Death is one of the few commonalities shared by all humans, but a recent study has shown that Hispanics may have a longer life expectancy than other ethnicities.
Dr. John Ruiz, assistant psychology professor at UNT, conducted collaborative research with two professors from Brigham Young University to address the phenomenon known as the Hispanic Mortality Paradox.
Hispanic Latinos, particularly of first generation or immigrant descent, and even more often Mexican descent, tend to live longer despite typically having a lower social and economic status, said health psychology and behavioral medicine doctoral student James Garcia.
Garcia is one of five graduate students studying Hispanic health with Ruiz.
“The saying goes that, ‘wealth equals health,’ but an exception to that appears to be with Hispanics,” Ruiz said. “Because these things are going in different directions, it’s been called the Hispanic Mortality Paradox.”
Ruiz said he has been exploring the Hispanic Mortality Paradox since his arrival at UNT in 2008, even though it has existed since the early 1980s.
The results of his study were published this year in the American Journal of Public Health.
Now that he is confident the paradox exists, Ruiz said he intends to investigate why Hispanics are more resilient than other races.
“The medical field is based on risk and looking for things that could damage your health, but health is determined not only by risk factors, but by resilience factors as well,” Ruiz said. “This is an opportunity to look at the other side of the coin and look at what could actually be protective of health.”
Ruiz said he used meta-analysis, combining results from different studies, to evaluate 58 studies compiled from hospital records to find one final answer to the controversial topic.
“We took all of the studies that had been done over the last 25 years where Hispanics, and at least one other racial ethnic group, were enrolled into a study,” Ruiz said. “Those people were then followed for a period of time and the study reported how many people had died and what race and ethnicity those people were.”
The results showed that Hispanics had a 17.5 percent mortality advantage over non-Hispanics, Ruiz said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 52 million Hispanic residents in the United States as of July 2011. The population has also been estimated to rise to about 66.4 million in 2020, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the U.S.’s projected population.
Parkland Hospital in Dallas provided the records for the research because of the proportionality of patient ethnicity, Ruiz said.
Parkland Hospital admits about 24,000 patients a year, and 96 percent of the patient base is one-third Hispanic, one-third non-Hispanic black and one-third non-Hispanic white, Ruiz said.
Garcia said he would like to see researchers look into the physiological mechanisms that are causing this phenomenon instead of focusing on the question of its existence.
“The maintenance of health becomes important, not only with this ethnic group but with other racial ethnic groups,” Garcia said. “What we know about this group might be applicable to helping other racial ethnic groups attain or maintain better health.”