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Soc Sci Med. 2007 Sep;65(5):990-1003. Epub 2007 Jun 14.

Why do Hispanics in the USA report poor health?

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Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA.


Despite the health and survival advantages of Hispanics relative to non-Hispanic whites in the USA, Hispanics report themselves to be in worse health than whites. Prior research indicates that these ethnic differences in self-rated health (SRH), measured by a simple question asking individuals to assess their overall health status, persist in the presence of an extensive set of explanatory variables. In this paper we use data from the first wave of the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey (L.A.FANS-1) to test three hypotheses regarding Hispanic-white differences in SRH. We evaluate whether poorer health reports among Hispanics result from: (1) acculturation and language-related differences in reports; (2) measures of socioeconomic status (SES) that are often omitted in other studies; and (3) somatization of emotional distress by Hispanics. Our results provide new insights into the validity of these explanations and suggest avenues for future research. First, they underscore the importance of language of interview over other measures of acculturation, suggesting that translation issues between the Spanish and English versions of the SRH question may give rise to some of the differences. Second, adjustment for SES - especially years of schooling - narrows, but does not eliminate, the gap between whites' and Hispanics' SRH. Finally, although respondents who are depressed are more likely to report poor SRH, this study provides little evidence to support the somatization hypothesis. The second wave of L.A.FANS incorporates new questions that are likely to permit more in-depth assessments of these hypotheses in future analyses.

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