Despite Advantages, Latinos Still Suffer Health and Healthcare Disparties, Report Says

Apr 11, 2022
12:38 PM

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Latinos are more likely than non-Latinos to endorse the benefits of “healthy eating habits” and a “healthy lifestyle,” as well as use technology to manage their health, but they suffer persistent disparities in terms of receiving healthcare.

That’s according to a recent study published in the April issue of the Journal of Cultural Marketing Strategy. In “Exploring Hispanic Health Attitudes & Behaviors for More Informed Cross-Cultural Marketing,” researchers at Klick Health and ThinkNow found that while Latinos actually have better beliefs concerning their health and healthcare, they maintain poor practices.

Co-led by Amy Gómez, Ph.D., senior vice president of diversity strategy at Klick Health, the authors explain that Latinos are more comfortable than non-Latinos using technology-based products and services in their healthcare —such as patient portals, digital prescription refills, wearables (Apple Watches and Fitbits), and vital monitoring devices (glucose meters)— by a margin of 59 percent to 50 percent. Slightly over half of the 1,000 Latinos surveyed shared the belief that technology could help them lead healthier lives, compared to 43 percent of the 500 non-Latinos surveyed.

Latinos’ preference for technology is contrasted with a 2016 study showing that doctors are “less likely to prescribe health technology like vital monitoring devices to Hispanics.”

Twenty-nine percent of the Latinos surveyed said they believed in the benefits of “healthy eating habits” (compared to 20 percent of the non-Latinos surveyed), and 30 percent said they believed in the benefits of a “healthy lifestyle” (compared to 23 percent of non-Latinos).

The authors admit, however, how hard it is to measure what Latinos actually think or feel on a given issue by means of a survey, since Latinos “are more likely than other ethnic groups in the country to show acquiescence bias, meaning they lean disproportionately toward giving ‘yes’ answers,” as the authors explain. “They are also more likely on average to give responses they perceive as more socially desirable in response to sensitive questions.”

Latinos are more likely to seek healthcare services from a community clinic than non-Latinos (28 percent to 20 percent) and less likely to visit a doctor’s office (52 percent to 61 percent) or an urgent care center (36 percent to 61 percent). And while Latinos and non-Latinos alike receive their information from similar sources —“doctors, healthcare professionals, medical websites and friends and family”— Latinos are “somewhat more likely to turn to YouTube” than non-Latinos (29 percent to 24 percent).

Perhaps the most revealing discovery is in the generational differences —or lack thereof— in Latinos’ willingness to access healthcare and treatment. The authors note that while younger Latinos are much more likely to reject the traditional stigmatization of mental illness and treatment expressed by older Latinos, the stigmatization of seeking treatment for physical pain remains across all age groups. The authors attribute this phenomenon to “stoicism,” or the philosophical posture in which fate is supreme and therefore should be submitted to without complaint—a characteristic feature of Latino culture.

“One way Hispanic Americans cope with pain is by remaining stoic,” explain the authors of an essay published in the Journal of Pain in 2016 and cited by Gómez and her co-authors. “Stoicism is often learned from the family and is used as an attempt to maintain the same or a similar level of functioning. The use of stoicism is associated with not appearing ‘wimpy’ or dependent, while complaining of pain and not fulfilling one’s social duties is associated with weakness.”

“Stoicism is typically associated with less acculturated, older individuals and particularly with men,” write Gómez and the others. “Paradoxically, the present study showed that stoic attitudes and behaviours (such as powering through work even while sick or injured, self-medicating and avoiding visits to the doctor) were just as prevalent among acculturated millennial and generation Z Hispanics. While younger Hispanics seek treatment for mental health issues more readily than is observed among older generations, when it comes to physical illness and pain management, they tend to be just as stoic as their parents and predecessors.”

“That said, we wouldn’t want to simplify Latino help-seeking behaviors to a single factor, as there are multiple considerations at play at every acculturation level,” Gómez told Latino Rebels last week. “Some of them have to do with the social determinants of health: Do I have insurance coverage? Do I have a job that still pays me when I go to a doctor’s appointment? Do I have transportation to the medical facility?

“Another important consideration is what happens at the point of care: Do I feel seen and respected? Can I communicate easily with my healthcare team?” she added.

“What is certain is that the predisposition towards stoicism contributes to many conditions being diagnosed at later stages, when they are harder to treat. There needs to be greater awareness raised among Latinos about the critical importance of speaking openly with your doctor.”

Gómez holds a master’s in Romance philology from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in European history and literature from Stanford, but has worked in cross-cultural marketing for over 20 years across a variety of industries: “travel & tourism, financial services, wine & spirits, CPG (consumer packaged goods)—you name it,” she told Latino Rebels.

“I didn’t start doing healthcare work until 2014, and I immediately fell in love with it,” she explained. “When you do cross-cultural work in the healthcare space, it’s all about health equity—reducing and eliminating disparities. If that isn’t the issue of our times, I don’t know what is! I feel incredibly fortunate to do work that is meaningful and helps to create positive change.

“That’s why this study is so important—it gives healthcare marketers an in-depth view of Latino that they may not have had before, and better equips them to address the community’s needs directly,” she said.

Gómez says she wants “Latinos to know that the pharmaceutical industry and the U.S. healthcare system needs you, and that gives you power!”

“Currently 1 of every 5 people in the U.S. is Hispanic, and by 2050, it will be over 1 in 4,” she explained. “Demand to be represented equitably in clinical research to ensure that treatments are safe and effective for you. Demand that healthcare marketers go beyond just translating their materials into Spanish—that they create initiatives that are designed to deliver on the unmet needs of your communities.”


Hector Luis Alamo is the Senior Editor at Latino Rebels and hosts the Latin[ish] podcast. Twitter: @HectorLuisAlamo