Research has long shown that U.S. Latinos face higher rates of diabetes and obesity.

But are there differences among Mexicans? Cubans?

Puerto Ricans?

The Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL), the first long-term study to look exclusively at the health of Latinos, is studying heart disease, obesity, and diabetes among a cohort of more than 16,000 U.S. Latino adults of Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, South American and Central American heritage in the Bronx, Chicago, San Diego and Miami areas, the American Heart Association (AHA) reports.

diabetesFor diabetes, a study of this cohort found that adults of South American heritage have the lowest rate of diabetes.

Only about 10 percent of them have diabetes compared with about 18 percent of persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican or Dominican background.

For obesity, a study of this cohort found obesity is most common among Puerto Ricans and least common among South Americans.

obesityPuerto Ricans were also nearly twice as likely to be severely obese.

Overall, the HCHS/SOL study has allowed scientists to better understand how Latinos of different ethnicities are affected by problems that can lead to heart disease, the second-leading cause of death among U.S. Latinos, and stroke, the fourth-leading cause of death among them, according to AHA.

“Among my clinical colleagues, they are starting to understand they need to go beyond the checkbox of Latino and ask this person where did they grow up and what their cultural preferences [are],” said Dr. Gregory Talavera, principal investigator at the research site in San Diego and a professor at San Diego State University.

Dr. Martha L. Daviglus, principal investigator at the study’s field center in Chicago, agreed.

“The main message is that all major cardiovascular risk factors are preventable, Daviglus said. And the findings from studies using HCHS/SOL data can be used to educate patients and inform public policy initiatives targeted to different Hispanic ethnic groups to help them ‘make better choices for their own health and the health of their family,’ she said,” according to the AHA report.

Read the full AHA report in English or Spanish.

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