There’s an interesting, well-known paradox in the field of heart disease that caught the attention of Fatima Rodriguez, MD, a cardiology fellow at Stanford and cardiovascular researcher.
"Despite higher risk factors for heart disease, Hispanics somehow seem to die less often from cardiovascular disease, and in fact all causes," Rodriguez says. "It's controversial. Some people say it's not real, that it's just a statistical phenomenon."
Spurred by her interest in the controversy, Rodriguez set out to discover whether perhaps this "paradox" could be due to the fact that so many different Hispanic groups — about 20 groups with origins from different countries — get lumped together for most health studies.
In the resulting study published today in JAMA Cardiology, Rodriguez and colleagues report wide differences in cardiovascular mortality rates and their causes among the three major Hispanic ethnic groups in the U.S. — those with origins from Cuba, Mexico and Puerto Rico. The study concludes that the current method of lumping together all Hispanics masks a wide variation between cardiovascular mortality rates and their causes, skewing the data.
"When we put everybody in one bucket, we are missing a lot of the important details," Rodriguez says.
Using 10 years of national data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics from death certificates from 2003 to 2012, researchers separated reported causes of mortality for the only three Hispanic ethnic groups recorded: Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican. They then calculated mortality rates for these sub-groups and compared them to non-Hispanic whites. Results showed that Mexicans and Puerto Ricans died on average 10 years before whites and Cubans.
They also found that Puerto Ricans experienced higher mortality rates from heart attack and hypertension while Mexicans showed higher rates of death due to stroke.
The study recommends that heart disease mortality data needs to be separated by the various Hispanic ethnic groups to improve health care for Hispanics.
“In the future this will help inform appropriate preventive strategies and offer personalized treatment for these diverse groups,” the study says.