Many studies report that Hispanics in the United States have better or similar health to that of non-Hispanic Whites, despite Hispanics having lower incomes and less education. Most studies that examine differences in adult mortality find that Hispanics have relatively lower mortality rates compared with Whites. This better than-expected health and mortality of Hispanics, given their lower socioeconomic status (SES), has been called the Hispanic paradox.
Researchers at the University of Southern California, UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania examined biological risk profiles by race, ethnicity, and nativity to evaluate evidence for a Hispanic paradox in measured health indicators. Some of the clinical risk factors measured include blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation.
The investigators used data on adults aged 40 years and older (n = 4206) from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (1999-2002) to compare blood pressure, metabolic, and inflammatory risk profiles for Whites, Blacks, US-born and foreign-born Hispanics, and Hispanics of Mexican origin. They controlled for age, gender, and socioeconomic status.
After conducting their analyzes, they found that Hispanics have more risk factors above clinical risk levels than do Whites but fewer than Blacks. Differences between Hispanics and Whites disappeared after we controlled for socioeconomic status, but results differed by nativity. After controlling for socioeconomic status, the differences between foreign-born Hispanics and Whites were eliminated, but US-born Mexican Americans still had higher biological risk scores than did both Whites and foreign-born Mexican Americans.
In conclusion, there is no Hispanic paradox in biological risk profiles. However, the finding that foreign-born Hispanics and Whites had similar biological risk profiles, but US-born Mexican Americans had higher risk, was consistent with hypothesized effects of migrant health selectivity (the idea that those people who immigrate to the United States are healthier than those who stay in their country of origin and that many migrants who become sick return to their countries of origin) as well as some differences in health behaviors between US-born and foreign-born Hispanics.