By JULIO MORALES
Staff Writer, Copy Editor
4:54 AM EST, November 25, 2012
By all appearances and measures 51-year-old Maria Andrade, up until a few months ago, thought of herself as a relatively healthy person. But a recent hyperthyroidism diagnosis has changed her outlook.
Aside from the risk of losing weight, the disease, which is characterized by an increased production of thyroid hormone, also contributes to the risk of heart disease.
Her concern is also heightened by the fact that her late father, who she described as having been a healthy person, also died of a heart-related illness.
“He never had any heart problems,” the El Centro resident said of the unexpected death.
As a gainfully employed and medically insured individual, Andrade had the benefit of early detection and has taken extensive steps to improve and maintain her health.
Yet when it comes to Latinos across the nation, early detection of coronary disease can be elusive.
“It is a constant battle that we face in the Latino community,” said Dr. Greg Talavera, a San Diego State University professor in the Graduate School of Public Health. “The idea of early detection and screenings are somewhat foreign.”
Talavera was a co-author of a recent study of the common heart disease risk factors found in the country’s Latino populations, which included those of Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban ancestry, to name a few.
One of the study’s findings particular to the Mexican-American subgroup was the prevalence of diabetes, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
Their research suggests that individuals of Mexican ancestry have a higher incident rate of diabetes compared to other Latino groups.
“Mexican-American men in particular,” Talavera said.
Common heart disease risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cholesterol and smoking.
In 2010, Latinos were 20 percent less likely to have heart disease than non-Hispanic white adults, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. Heart disease is the second-leading cause of death for Latinos, with cancer ranking first.
Here in the county, public officials have a number of measures in place aimed at reducing heart disease risk factors. Yet the high number of uninsured in the county, estimated to be about 24 percent, also presents challenges.
While early detection and enhanced access to medical care can go a long way toward treating heart disease, prevention is key. Working with various other local health advocates and agencies, the county has promoted a unified message of proper diet, physical activity and regular check-ups and screenings as a first line of defense.
“We know that prevention goes a long way,” county Public Health Department spokeswoman Maria Peinado said.
Imperial County’s age-adjusted death rate for cerebrovascular disease during 2004-2006 was 40.4 deaths per 100,000, lower than the statewide rate of 47.8 deaths per 100,000. The county also met the federal Healthy People 2010 objective of 50 deaths or fewer per 100,000, according to the county’s health status report.
In 2010, there were 312 deaths attributed to circulatory system disease and complications in the county. Latinos accounted for 176 of those, according to data provided by the county Public Health Department. Between 2008-2010, the county averaged 153.3 yearly deaths attributable to heart related illnesses.
While in the past county public health officials had focused on education and raising awareness about preventative care, the focus of late has also included changing the environment and policy.
“It’s not just a public health issue,” Peinado said. “It’s a whole planning issue.”
County health officials have also begun to look at the existing environment within the various county agencies. A particular area of focus is vending machines.
With more than 2,000 employees, improving the lifestyle of county personnel could have great influence on many families and households.
“If we don’t change the environment where we work and play it’s not going to help,” said dietician Luce Filiatrault.
When it comes to reaching particular segments of the population, SDSU’s Talavera emphasized a targeted approach and a deeper understanding of the risk factors prevalent within those groups.
Of note for Latinos is how acculturation influences risk factors for subsequent generations.
“The risk factor profile seems to get worse over time,” Talavera said.
Staff Writer, Copy Editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-337-3415 or at email@example.com