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Ask the Expert: What unique heart health challenges do Latino men face?

What are some of the unique heart health challenges faced by Latino men?Each May is Men’s Health Month, which provides men and their loved ones time to reflect on how to stay healthy or recover from ailments.

As with Black and non-Latino white men, the leading cause of death in Latino males is cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease, stroke and other circulation problems. Risk factors are conditions that increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and are classified as modifiable or non-modifiable.

The non-modifiable risk factors are aging, being male and having a family history of premature heart disease. The modifiable risk factors we can change with lifestyle improvements include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, smoking, obesity, diabetes and psychosocial stress. However, the ability to address these risk factors are affected by a person’s social determinants of health, which include good housing, financial stability, education, safe environments and access to adequate health care.

Although Latinos are a mixed ethnic group, Latino men are known to have higher levels of cholesterol, particularly “bad” or LDL cholesterol, and suffer from higher rates of untreated and uncontrolled high blood pressure. In addition, Latino men are more likely to be obese compared with non-Latino whites and are significantly more likely to be prediabetic or have diabetes.

Latino men and their families more commonly live in food deserts with limited access to healthy food, work several jobs to make ends meet and have limited time to exercise in safe environments.

Many Latino men, in particular men born in other countries, remain in intense blue-collar and manual-labor jobs that expose them to psychosocial stress that leads to cardiovascular disease. These workforce conditions also mean Latinos tend to have lower median household incomes compared with non-Latino whites and are less likely to have access to social benefit programs and health insurance. With limited health literacy and access to healthcare, they are frequently unable to follow national healthcare recommendations.

Latino men frequently have language and cultural gaps with their healthcare providers that affect the quality of care they receive. From a cultural perspective, Latino men are often prevented by their “machismo,” also known as masculine pride, from seeking much-needed preventative care or even following through with recommended treatment plans as they focus on meeting their cultural expectation of providing for their families.

Men of all racial or ethnic groups, but particularly men of color, may have the will and interest in making lifestyle changes and reducing their risk for cardiovascular disease but meet socioeconomic challenges, like the ones described above, to make the lifestyle changes needed. Their lifestyle is not by choice, but based on their social determinants of health.

The natural question is what to do with all this information. These at-risk men are the fathers of our children’s schoolmates, our neighbors, our co-workers, the owners and employees of thriving small businesses and the people that kept food on the table for all our families during the COVID-19 pandemic while facing the brunt of the pandemic. Along with vulnerable women, these men need to be reached by creative community programs — such as the UVa Latino Health Initiative and UVA’s Earn While You Learn programs — as well as other programs that build affordable housing, build careers, teach English as a second language, foster culturally competent and humane relationships with law enforcement and provide affordable healthcare coverage. Join us to reflect on the opportunities we have or may be able to create to improve the health and future of vulnerable men, women and children in Central Virginia.


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