The facts behind common illnesses in Latinos.

Author:Osborn, Eliana

The medical field is constantly in flux as new treatments are devised and research opens doors to better understanding disease. Certain conditions are more common in Latinos, due to both genetic predisposition and environmental factors. These three health care professionals are combining their culture and expertise to advance access and understanding of the complexities involved in modern medicine.


Aida L. Maisonet Giachello has always been interested in one-on-one research: talking to individuals to collect data through interviews. That passion for people has taken her to the head of the field, working on the sociological aspects of health and illness, especially in the Latino community.

Aida earned her PhD in medical sociology at the University of Chicago in 1988. She is currently a Research Professor of Preventative Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. She's on the Board of Directors of the American Diabetes Association and a member of the Center for Diabetes and Metabolism. In 2005, TIME magazine named her one of the "25 Most Influential Hispanics in America" for her work as a health activist.

Diabetes is a growing medical crisis around the world, including in the United States. Twenty-six million Americans have diabetes or are at risk, with an estimated 5 million who are undiagnosed. In the Latino community, as many as 25 to 30 percent of the population has the condition, depending on where they live. Female Latinos are more likely to be afflicted, and more than one-third of those over age 65 have diabetes.

Giachello points to a number of reasons that diabetes is so prevalent in Hispanics: obesity, poverty, genetic predisposition and avoidance of medical care. The problem isn't just in the U.S., either--she says diabetes is the number one cause of death in Mexico City.

"People don't die of diabetes," Giachello says. "They die of complications." Untreated diabetes means not keeping blood sugar levels under control. That can lead to blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, stroke, amputation and other serious issues. With such scary conditions on the table, dealing with diabetes can seem overwhelming. But there's strong evidence of strategies that can help individuals and communities manage diabetes and live long, healthy lives.

It used to be primarily older people who would be diagnosed, but now diabetes is increasing in teens and young adults. The culprit? Body weight. This is especially true in Latinos; one-third of the U.S. population is overweight or obese, while 75 percent of Latinos are in the same category.

And Latino children are becoming obese at higher rates, too. That's why prevention and delaying the onset of diabetes is so crucial. Even with genetic factors...

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