U.S.-born Hispanics more prone to diet-related diseases than foreign-born peers

Hispanic people born in the United States may be more likely to develop several chronic diseases related to their diet than their peers born in other countries, new research that compared metabolic status suggests.

Those born in the U.S. showed a blood cardiometabolic profile associated with obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and asthma, according to the preliminary findings. Diet appears to be the chief reason for the disparity.

“The difference of metabolic status between U.S.-born Latinos and non-U.S.-born Latinos is mainly driven by Westernized food,” said study co-author Yang Li, a researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. “In terms of individual risk factor, changing food patterns should be paid the first attention.”

Li and his colleagues analyzed metabolites – the byproducts after the body breaks down substances such as amino acids and some sugars – from 7,119 participants in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, the largest and most representative study of a fast-growing population with cultural roots across Latin America and the Caribbean. Slightly more than 62 million Hispanic people make up 18.7% of the U.S. population, according to 2020 census data.

A profile of metabolites considers several measurable factors, such as biomarker identification in blood and other body fluids, that reflect how healthy someone is, as well as the likelihood that chronic conditions may appear. The study included a six-year follow-up between the time the blood of participants was collected and when disease developed.

The study found that Hispanic people born in the U.S. had higher levels of metabolites related to greater risks of diabetes (22%), severe obesity (16%), chronic kidney disease (15%) and asthma (42%). Meanwhile, the metabolites in foreign-born Hispanic people were associated with lower risks of these diseases.

Diabetes and obesity are contributing factors to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S. More than 40% of Hispanic adults experience obesity, according to the AHA’s statistical update. Nearly 12% of Hispanic adults had been diagnosed with diabetes as of 2019, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show.

“What’s interesting about this area of work is that it helps us to understand how the human body is sort of manifesting changes to the social environment and changes to nutrition, changes to stress, differences in social experiences between people who are staying in their home countries versus those who are in the U.S., and across generations,” said Dr. Monik Jiménez, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the study.

“What people eat is very important, and that’s one of the things we know can change quite dramatically based on time in the United States and increased consumption of Westernized diet, like processed foods,” Jiménez said.

Li said his study reinforces the importance of incorporating plant-based foods in Hispanic diets for better health. Previous research has shown that a diet rich in whole plant foods, such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains, offers many benefits.


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