Education Is the Key for a Population to Realize Its Best Health

The future health and health care of Latinos and other Americans will be in good hands. Listening to comments and questions from young Latinos attending a recent panel discussion on "The State of Hispanic Health in America," I was encouraged and inspired. These mostly college-aged students represent our nation's future leaders, and what I saw and heard and experienced gave me tremendous hope.

They were engaged, interested in learning, and interested in leading. The panel was part of the four-day United States Hispanic Leadership Institute conference held annually in Chicago. The conference attracts participants who will help govern our cities, schools, states and nation and who will be health and health care decision makers.

On the panel, I talked about healthy behaviors to achieve ideal cardiovascular health. I also told the participants something they probably knew but that I wanted to make sure they heard, that education is the key to many of the things we consider important - a good job, good health, a good life. The evidence is clear. Education is key for a population to realize its best health. Graduating from high school may be the single most important health factor for individuals and populations.

Having a regular doctor or other primary care provider is another very important factor for optimal health. So, we must do a better job of reaching Latinos, many of whom are busy living their lives, making ends meet, and not receiving messages that, frankly, could be better targeted at Latinos in the first place.

That is why the American Heart Association's Go Red For Women campaign is so crucial. This year we are encouraging Latinas to schedule a well-woman visit with their health care provider to take control of their health, particularly their heart health.

Cristy Marrero, editorial vice president for Hola USA, a print and online publication, is co-hosting the Go Red For Women media luncheon in Miami on March 9. At the event, members of the Hispanic media will discuss the No. 1 combined killers of Latinas - heart disease and stroke.

"Bad eating habits, childhood diabetes, obesity and everything that triggers heart disease amongst us keeps me up at night," Marrero said. "It is my responsibility to serve as a microphone for the amazing message AHA's Go Red For Women is committed to deliver."

The audience of young adult Latinos and Latinas in Chicago was interested in careers in the health and health-related professions. They heard that the Latino community carries a significant burden of risk factors for premature cardiovascular disease and diabetes, a disease that, in addition to its own challenges and complications, also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. They heard that Latinos are less likely to have health insurance access to evidence-based, health promoting and lifesaving primary care. They heard that Latinos are less likely to have fully benefited from the value of clinical preventive services. And they heard that America needs more Latino clinicians and researchers.

I spoke to the participants as a Latino physician who has cared for patients and is a senior level leader in a national organization and as a Latino who they might see themselves in. I spoke to the participants as a Latino who went from high school in the United States to college to medical school and beyond.

The two other panelists were also Latino physicians. By the end of the workshop, it was clear they saw the three of us as role models and possibly as mentors.

And that has tremendous value for their future, their health, and the health of all they touch. The future looks bright.

Dr. Eduardo Sanchez is chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association.