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Published: Thursday, 10/14/2010

U.S. Hispanics outlive blacks, whites

BLADE NEWS SERVICES

ATLANTA - Hispanics in the United States outlive whites by more than two years and blacks by almost eight years, U.S. government researchers said Wednesday.

Other experts said clean living may play a role.

They said the life expectancy for a Hispanic baby at birth is nearly 81, compared with 78 years for non-Hispanic white babies and just under 73 for black babies.

As a population, U.S. residents born in 2006 can expect to live 77.7 years, according to the new report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

The report released Wednesday is the strongest evidence yet of what some experts call the "Hispanic paradox" - longevity for a population with a large share of poor, undereducated members.

A leading theory is that Hispanics who manage to immigrate to the United States are among the healthiest from their countries.

Researchers have seen signs of Hispanic longevity for years. But until recently, the government didn't calculate life expectancy for Hispanics as a separate group; they were included among the black and white populations. The new report projecting future life spans is based on death certificates from 2006.

By breaking out the longer-living Hispanics, the life expectancies for non-Hispanic whites and blacks declined slightly, said the report's author, Elizabeth Arias of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hispanics are the largest, fastest growing minority in the United States, accounting for 15 percent of the population.

An estimated 40 percent of them are immigrants, who in some cases arrived after arduous journeys to do taxing manual labor.

It takes a fit person to accomplish that, suggesting that the United States is gaining some of the healthi-est people born in Mexico and other countries, said Dr. Peter Muennig of Columbia University's school of public health who has studied life expectancy in different countries.

In spite of having less education and access to care, Latinos have a 35 percent lower risk of death from heart disease, a 40 percent lower risk of cancer, and a 25 percent lower risk of stroke than the general population, said David Hayes-Bautista of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the University of California Los Angeles.

Mr. Hayes-Bautista said the reasons are not yet clear, but he thinks it is likely because of culture and behavioral differences rather than genetics, given that U.S. Hispanics are such a diverse group.

"Latinos compared to non-Hispanic whites are far less likely to smoke, drink, and use drugs," he said.

Compared to the estimate for all U.S. Hispanics, life expectancy is almost 2 years lower in Puerto Rico, more than 2 years lower in Cuba, and more than 4 years lower in Mexico, World Health Organization figures state.

However, experts say that immigrant hardiness diminishes within a couple of generations of living here. Many believe it's because the children of immigrants take up smoking, fast-food diets, and other habits blamed for wrecking the health of other ethnic populations.

"The American lifestyle is very sedentary. That's not a good thing," said Jane Delgado, president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health.

Health researchers have seen a strong link between poverty, lack of education, and life-shortening health problems. Hispanics are disadvantaged in those areas: About 19 percent of Hispanics live at or below the federal poverty level - three times more than whites. As for education, fewer than 13 percent of Hispanics have a college degree, compared to 17 percent of blacks, and 30 percent of whites.

Indeed, past CDC studies have shown that Hispanics suffer some diseases at higher rates than whites, including diabetes and heart disease. But their death rates from those diseases were lower, not higher.

In 1986, some researchers had been reporting what appeared to be lower death rates among Hispanics compared to other groups in some parts of the country. But a national estimate was difficult.

Calculating life expectancy is a tough task that requires analyzing extensive information about how people died and how old they were, as well as statistical modeling to predict how long people born today will live if current trends continue.

Ms. Arias' report suggests the life expectancy for non-Hispanic blacks and whites is lower by a couple of months than was previously estimated.

Specifically, life expectancy for whites born in 2006 is 78 years and 1 month and for blacks, 72 years and 11 months.

There are limitations to the report. For example, it could not account for all Hispanics who move back to their countries of origin to die.



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