Hispanics Need an All-Out Effort to Combat Obesity

With recent news that about 2.5 million Hispanic adults suffer from diabetes, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and community-based groups are expanding their efforts to reduce the burden of diabetes in the Latino community.

Ultimately, progress against diabetes will also depend on attacking the epidemic behind the spread of this life-threatening condition: obesity.

While many elements of Latino culture promote healthy lifestyles and long lifespans, other cultural factors foster excessive weight gain and contribute to disproportionate incidences of diabetes, heart disease and several other detrimental conditions within our community. Among all adults, nearly 40 percent of Hispanics have obesity. Weight problems also increase the risk for strokes, liver and bladder disease, many forms of cancer, and mental health conditions, including depression.

Inequalities in earnings, savings and access to quality health care further exacerbate Hispanics’ vulnerability to serious diseases. According to the Center on an Aging Society at Georgetown University, more than a quarter of Hispanics from ages 50 to 64 with chronic conditions are uninsured, while less than a third are covered for prescription drugs to manage those conditions.

Because Hispanics face so many obstacles in staying healthy and preventing, diagnosing and treating health problems, we need a full range of culturally sensitive, linguistically appropriate and medically sound approaches for controlling weight problems.

New drugs are currently in the final phases of FDA evaluation. Drug therapies can be a helpful addition — but not a substitute — for healthier ways of living and eating. Providing an array of treatment options for all individuals with obesity will enhance their health and help reduce health care costs related to chronic conditions. Even a modest 5 to 10 percent reduction in weight can significantly improve health outcomes, reduce health care spending and begin to break the parent-to-child obesity cycle; drug therapies can help patients achieve this critical, first step.

It goes without saying that drug therapies must not only be available, but affordable and accessible as well. As with so many other health care services, there are widespread disparities in the use of medications. Even though Hispanics are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to suffer from obesity, they are 39 percent less likely to make use of drug therapies.

When it comes to overcoming obesity and the ailments associated with it, Hispanics — and all Americans — need an all-out effort. We need more pharmacologic research about obesity. We need accelerated development of anti-obesity medications. And we need to make sure that these remedies are available, affordable and accessible for the communities in greatest need.

The Hispanic Leadership Fund is happy to be a partner in the Network to Overcome Obesity Now (NOON), a coalition formed to raise public awareness about the growing adult obesity medical crisis in the United States and the need for a wide range of treatment solutions to help motivated individuals lose weight and keep it off.  We encourage you to visit the NOON website to learn more about this crucial issue.