Latinos Live Familismo

By Dr. Eduardo Sanchez

Familismo or familism. While many look to social psychologists to define this cultural characteristic, Latinos live it.

Our cultures of origin -- Mexican, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Cuban, Colombian or other Spanish-speaking countries -- are rooted in family, in connecting, helping each other become the best we can be, putting our children first and supporting each other through good times and bad.

These are qualities we can lean on in dealing with the serious health issues in the Hispanic community. Familismo can help us create a culture of health -- Una Cultura de Salud -- for our communities, so that we can get healthier and our children can thrive. It will take all of us -- los jovenes, los padres, los primos, los tios and las abuelas y los abuelos -- to build and sustain this culture.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease, stroke and diabetes are among the top five leading causes of death in our community. Consider:

• Roughly two out of three Hispanics have uncontrolled high blood pressure.
• Hispanics are twice more likely than non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which, among other serious problems, can also contribute to cardiovascular and life-threatening kidney disease.
• Hispanic boys and girls of all ages have higher overweight and obesity rates compared to non-Hispanic white children. These children have a higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes as young adults.
• Mexican-Americans are more likely to be hospitalized for a heart attack and twice as likely as non-Hispanic white to have a stroke before age 60.

We can change this, and it begins with small steps -- seven steps, in fact.

Life's Simple Seven is the AHA recipe for heart health: no smoking, healthy eating, regular physical activity, healthy weight, as well as healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

We can make sure the snacks we bring to our children's sporting and other activities are healthy ones. A report from the nonprofit research group Child Trends said Hispanic children are more likely than other groups to eat home-cooked meals with family (60 percent). So, we can use that time to teach our young people to cook our traditional foods, making sure we limit salt and emphasize healthy ingredients.

We can start regular exercise routines, whether by strolling our neighborhoods or organizing a group walk with friends at nearby park. Our families can plant gardens together and then share the fruits and vegetables with neighbors. We can teach our children to enjoy the music from our countries of origin and the joy of dancing.

We also can take these small individual steps farther and raise our voices in our larger community.

• Work with your church or local organizations to include fruits and vegetables and water, while reducing or eliminating fried foods, as well as calorie dense but nutrient poor foods, such as cakes and pies, and sugar-sweetened drinks. Advocate for healthy options in vending machines.
• If lack of access to fresh food is an issue, organize a ride-share to the nearest full-service grocery store.
• Initiate a CPR training class or share the American Heart Association's Hands Only CPR video with your friends. Click here for Spanish-language resources.

You also can join the EmPowered To Serve free online community to share and receive ideas and resources. We can all work to build a culture of health in our communities. Small changes can yield big results.

It's true that the task is a big one. More than 54 million Hispanics live in the United States. Our population, the U.S.'s largest ethnic minority, is expected to double in size by 2050. So, our focus on building una cultura de salud, is important not only for our own families, but for the nation.

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