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A national study finds self-perceived social status may affect Latino cardiovascular health

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

New research, published by the Journal of the American Heart Association, examines the correlation between migration and behavior in Latinos, focusing on how a self-perceived sense of prestige and accomplishment impacts their health.

Lee este artículo en español aquí.

Fifteen thousand Latino adults in the U.S. were participants in the first-of-its-kind study supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. The adults in the study lived in San Diego, Chicago, New York, and Miami and ranged from 18 to 74 years old.

“This study facilitates understanding aging in Latinos,” said lead author Lissette Piedra, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Piedra spent four years on this study, which she called “uncharted territory” because there has never been there been such ample research on Latinos’ health. Fourteen other researchers were part of it too.

Study participants were asked to rank themselves on a social ladder relative to other people in the U.S. Levels go from one to ten and address indicators like education, work, and social connectivity.

The study suggests that Latinos with high education levels in their countries, but who can’t pursue careers in the U.S. because of their language or credentials, showed low cardiovascular health markers. On the contrary, when study participants thought they've achieved prosperity in their new jobs and lifestyle, their health improves.

The researchers compared that data to lifestyle habits and found out that the higher the score, the better the chances Latinos had of living a healthy life.

Some of the cardiovascular illnesses related to a self-perceived low social status are high blood pressure, inadequate levels of cholesterol and glucose, heart attacks, or strokes.

But if a person ranked higher in their self-perception, the study suggests, they’re more likely not to smoke, have an active life, and be more social, all steps that contribute to better cardiovascular health.

Latinos who believed their social status was higher were more likely to have ideal scores on body mass index, physical activity, and fasting blood sugar.

“We don’t know how a subjective perception works in the brain,” Piedra said. “But we know humans by nature make a lot of comparisons.”,” said Piedra.

Piedra says her study can also help states like New Hampshire, which has seen a new wave of immigration, offering more community services in Spanish.

“New Hampshire has experienced a growth of their Latino population, but there isn’t a great sense of community like in New York or Miami.,” Piedra said. “Anything you can do to establish co-ethnic places like bodegas, churches, and community centers can impact those internal medical responses.”

Piedra notes understanding how subjective versus objective markers affect health can be a game-changer in how doctors and providers treat Latino patients and their communities.

If the relationship is better understood, Piedra says “[medical staff] They can be more attentive to asking how a person feels and refer them to a specialist or counselor on time,” she said.

Copyright 2022 New Hampshire Public Radio. To see more, visit New Hampshire Public Radio.

Gabriela Lozada, Report for America Corps Member

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