Published Oct. 12, 2016

More than 16,000 Hispanics and Latinos in the United States are taking part in the first health study of its kind called the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, SOL for short.

Launched almost a decade ago with funding from the National Institutes of Health, scientists in the Bronx, Chicago, Miami and San Diego have collected information about diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

Dr. Gregory Talavera is the principal investigator at the San Diego research site. Talavera said the decision by the NIH to fund the study in 2006 was largely driven by changing demographics. By then, U.S. Hispanics and Latinos had become the largest minority ethnic group in the country. But data on their health was scant, and most of it was on Mexican Americans.

“The other driver for this study was the recognition that the Latino population living in the United States—be it immigrant, undocumented, second, third, fourth generation—was evolving from a heritage point of view. We knew that individuals of Mexican heritage was the large majority—mainly in the southwest of Texas—but there was also growing recognition that the individuals of Dominican heritage, and Puerto Rican heritage, and Cuban heritage was also important to study as well. And that they didn’t all share the same risk factor profiles, as our research has borne out.”

Talavera said the federal health agency also wanted to learn more about a concept known as the “Hispanic paradox” in cardiovascular disease. Although U.S. Hispanics tend to have lower incomes, less education and higher rates of diabetes, obesity and uncontrolled high blood pressure compared with whites, Hispanics live longer.

“They wanted to find out if in fact it was real, and if it was real, was it due to genetics, behavior or biological differences.”

The findings on cardiovascular risk factors have worried Dr. Martha L. Daviglus, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the lead investigator in that city’s research site. In a study she led, Daviglus and her colleagues found about 80 percent of Hispanic men and 71 percent of Hispanic women have at least one condition that may lead to cardiovascular problems.

“In general, the Hispanic population is a young population and if this proportion are already having a major risk factor, you can imagine what’s going to happen in the future, right? Because we know that these risk factors are associated with disease.”

The results on diabetes and obesity rates have been important.

Dr. Robert Kaplan, a professor in the department of epidemiology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said statistics show there is a very high proportion of Hispanics who are extremely obese. The lead investigator in the Bronx said numbers have shown that by age 40, many of them have high blood pressure and diabetes, conditions that also may lead to cardiovascular diseases.

“They’re supposed to have 30 years of life left. Those are the years when they’re raising their families often, and at their most productive. What does that portend for the future?”

Kaplan said the data collected from SOL will allow researchers to understand for the first time what the future holds for those Hispanics.

That’s important for Jaime Melian, a study participant from South Florida who has been motivated to eat more fruits and vegetables and exercise. Melian, who is obese, has lost about 10 pounds.

“Going to the SOL study has helped me so much to understand and comprehend what it is to live a good, healthy life.”

This is American Heart Association News.