Latinos and blacks are less likely to have their blood pressure under control than whites, says a recent federal report, and more likely to have a more serious form of the condition. Read the full study below.
Dr. Cesar Barba, the interim medical director at UMMA Community Clinic in South Los Angeles, has said that he and his staff tend to more than 1,200 high blood pressure patients, whose cases account for more than 1 in 5 of their patient diagnosis.
"That is likely our number-one diagnosis," he said, adding that most of his patients are either black or Latino.
Barba's experience aligns with the recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which said high blood pressure affects nearly 1 in 3 U.S. adults.
A "multifactorial" issue
Blood pressure is high in general in South L.A., Barba explained, pointing to the prevalence of relatively cheap salty food in the area as one of the primary reasons. More than 86,000 South L.A. households make less than $20,000 annually – and about another 59,000 make below $40,000, according to the L.A. Times' Mapping L.A. project. That low socioeconomic status can push people to over-consume cheap, salty food.
"You don't want to sit there and say it's because undeserved minorities are poor, because that's not necessarily the issue," he said. "It's multifactorial – you have educational backgrounds and genetics to deal with."
People with an "outsider's perspective," said Barba, might believe these disparities exist because low-income minority populations "don't care."
"And that's not it at all," he said. For example, the higher a patient's educational background, the more likely they are to be healthy.
"Just what is high blood pressure? How do you control it?" he said. "If you're educational level is not very high, you don't know."
Barba noted that UMMA gets a lot of immigrant patients whose education level tops out at the fourth or fifth grade.
"They're not able to comprehend fully what high blood pressure is, and what they have to do to change it," he said.
Key to breaking this cycle of low health literacy and negative health disparities is access to care, said Barba. That means actual face time with a health provider, who can explain to patients in detail "what things are prevalent in their communities and what they should watch out for."
More on the study
The CDC looked at data from 2003 to 2010, and found that when it came to being aware of, treating and controlling their high blood pressure, Latinos did most poorly:
- About 69 percent of Latinos were aware they had hypertension; the same was true for more than 79 percent of white people and about 81 percent of black people.
- About 59 percent of Latinos were being treated for their high blood pressure, the same was true of about 71 percent of whites and about 72 percent of blacks.
- Only about 36 percent of Latinos had their blood pressure under control, while almost 49 percent of whites and 43 percent of blacks did.
Folks in the Latino and black communities were less likely to have normal blood pressure and more likely to have stage 2 hypertension.
They were also less likely to have health care coverage – although Latinos were considerably less likely than black. Latinos were found to be less likely to have a "routine place for health care."