Obesity is rising in Hispanic children but trends are reversible. (Getty Images)

America’s Health Rankings Report: Rising Latino obesity and diabetes rates worrisome but reversible

Diabetes and obesity is a one-two punch that will continue to knock out the Latino community unless families begin to adopt lifestyle changes, according to the annual America’s Health Rankings report from the United Health Foundation.

The report measures 24 areas that impact overall health rankings, like air pollution, infectious diseases, violent crime and more.

“We saw betterment in some measures among the Hispanic community,” says Dr. Roberto Madrid, the medical director of United Healthcare. “The rates of premature death, death due to cancers, cardiovascular deaths and infant mortality all improved. But diabetes and obesity rates take away from those betterments.”

Dr. Madrid says diabetes and obesity affect 28 percent of the general population but 31 percent of Latinos. If that doesn’t sound too bad, Dr. Madrid stresses that these rates are rising among Hispanic children and present a shocking possibility.

“Doctors in the pediatric community say this generation – children in junior high and high school — may not live longer than their parents,” Dr. Madrid says. “It would be the first time that happened since the civil war.”

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Dr. Madrid notes that for many Latinos, coming to the U.S. is a chance to increase opportunities for their children and they would be the first who would want to make the necessary changes to avoid these health dangers.

He identifies sedentary lifestyle, where there is no activity outside of work for more than 30 days, as something that quickly needs to be changed.

“With obesity being one of the biggest drivers towards chronic illness, looking at the behaviors to change this is critical,” says Dr. Madrid. “We have more calories coming in than we’re expending. So we need to look at the problem from both sides and make small changes.”

He says the upcoming holidays and New Year are a great opportunity to be watchful and cut unnecessary calories that add up throughout the year. He also says everyday decisions can be changed.

“Every time we go to the store do we get full milk or 1 percent?” Dr. Madrid says. “Don’t eat a bag of chips in front of the TV. Before we know it we finish the bag. Eat dinner at a table.”

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The top five healthiest states according to the health rankings are Vermont, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Minnesota. On  a positive note, New Jersey (18 percent Latino) and Colorado (21 percent Latino) were two of the states that saw great improvement in health ranking measures, with New Jersey improving on nine different measures and Colorado improving across five different categories.

In the end, Dr. Madrid came back to the issue of diabetes and what it costs the American health care system. “For every person with diabetes, there are three people with pre-diabetes, which can turn into diabetes at any point,” he said. “A person with diabetes utilizes two to three times the cost of a regular person.”

He said that if you add in all the pre-diabetes people it shows the impact it can have on our health care system. But he also said these things are not inevitable and healthy changes can be made.

“This is preventable with weight loss. Five percent weight loss will reduce your risk of going from pre-diabetes to diabetes by 60 percent,” he said.

“That’s better than any medication.”

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