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Research supports Hispanic Mortality Paradox

Research supports Hispanic Mortality Paradox

Research supports Hispanic Mortality Paradox
November 25
00:13 2014

John Hoang / Intern Writer

recent study led by UNT faculty reveals Hispanic populations spend less time in the hospital and survive those visits more frequently than other races.

The study helped contribute to the existing Hispanic Mortality Paradox, a phenomenon in which research suggests Hispanic, populations possess a higher living expectancy than non-Hispanics despite the average demographics having lower levels of income and education.

“There is this group, worse in every way you can think of, more likely to be in poverty and with less education,” said John Ruiz, psychology professor and leader of the study. “But with health outcomes, they were far better than anyone else.”

The Hispanic Mortality Paradox was conceptualized by Kyriakos Markides, a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, in 1986. The trends began to appear in South Texas, Arizona and other areas with significant Hispanic populations. 

Ruiz became curious about the subject, wanting to know more on the health disparities between racial and ethnic groups.

“The more I read, the stranger it sounded. Everything seemed to be backwards,” Ruiz said. “It gives sense that you can’t generalize health for another. Minorities aren’t all the same.”

In 2009, Ruiz and his team of researchers began to investigate. At first, the team looked at estimates which examined the death certificates and censuses of the Hispanic population. Concerned about the accuracy of the data, Ruiz looked toward other information.

They conducted a longitude study, following specific people and how long each person lived, looking through a total of 58 studies which analyzed patients with cancer, heart disease and other ailments.

“It was very odd and that was how I got into it,” Ruiz said. “It was a good challenge and a particularly interesting one.”

UNT funded a grant for research on the Hispanic Mortality Paradox. The study involved monitoring 24,000 Hispanic patients at Parkland Hospital over a one-year period. According to the data, Hispanics spent a whole day less in the hospital on average, with Hispanics averaging about 8.28 days and non-Hispanic whites averaging 9.55 days. Ruiz believes this data contradicts peoples’ perception of minorities in the healthcare system.

“It really challenges how people think about racial ethnic minorities, particularly when it comes to health,” Ruiz said.

A second study funded by University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center enables Ruiz to continue his findings on a larger scale. The new study will involve approximately 200,000 patients over the course of six years. The study will use admission records from 2008-2013 and track the number of hospital stays for Hispanic patients with cancer and other diseases.

“I hope it changes how people think about health disparities, in that you can’t look at last name or skin color and assume they are disadvantaged,” Ruiz said.

He believes many people discriminate against Hispanics as being a burden to the health care system. 

“Hispanics have lots going against them, but are living longer,” Ruiz said. “The data suggest they are doing something that’s right.”

According to Ruiz’s research, Hispanics have a 17.5 percent lower mortality rate than non-Hispanics. Other research showed Hispanic participants with heart disease were 25 percent more likely to survive during the study.

“Rather than being the group that’s going to break system, it may be the group who holds some answers,” Ruiz said. “It might be the opposite of what people are expecting.”

The estimated average cost of hospital stays for Hispanics would have been $14,755, while non-Hispanic whites would have been $17,018, Ruiz said.

“Many feel that they are going to be a big burden on system,” he said. “But when you look at data, it is opposite, with the least problems out of anybody.”

Ruiz suggests Hispanics may recover more fully from their ordeals as compared to their non-Hispanic counterparts. Although Hispanics were more likely to be readmitted throughout the year after their initial stay, they were less likely to die in the hospital. Hispanics were also more likely to be discharged to their families after they left the hospital.

“I didn’t think it was going work this way,” Ruiz said. “I was surprised by breadth of results and how clear the findings were.”

Ruiz believes there could be many possible explanations for the studies, including social factors. Although he has no definite explanation for the Hispanic Mortality Paradox, he hopes to eventually find the answer.

“We can hope to get a better sense of what causes it,” Ruiz said. “Identifying those things, finding out what causes it, bottle that and use it to create a better outcome for other groups.”

Junior Armando Soriano believes the way Hispanics live affects their life expectancy, and their ties with family create the bond.

“They help each other in times of need, and so they rely on every member of the family to help out everyone,” Soriano said.  “They also normally live with, love and sustain their elders until they die.”

Ruiz sees his research as fruitful and hopes it will benefit the community by a model for other demographics to improve their own health standing, he said.

“This is one area that there may be a source of pride, as they keep having these resilient outcomes,” Ruiz said. “They could be a model for others to see to improve their health.”

Featured Illustration by Jake Bowerman – Senior Staff Illustrator

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