It Can Stop with You



Sharp, bitter barbs and barrier walls will do nothing to keep our 50 million U.S. Latinos healthy.  As a community, we suffer serious health problems including obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol.  All lead to a whole host of other chronic diseases such as hypertension and stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease which then lead to fatigue, chronic pain, depression and less functioning in family life.  Add to this picture Latinos who have less education and knowledge about health, live in high stress communities with poverty, crime, with toxic housing, air and water.  Obviously, with mixed status families, we also see fear or ineligibility in signing-up for government programs that can help---SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, CHIP, Marketplace insurance and college Federal loans to name a few.

The cycle of poor health, especially child obesity and inequities can stop with you. The trend that this generation is the first generation where children who do not have healthy weight will die before their parents must stop.

The National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) convened its 20th Anniversary Annual Conference, “Advancing Hispanic Health in the Next 20 Years – the NHMA and HDA Leading the Way” in Washington, DC in April with over 1000 health experts attending.  We partnered with the Hispanic Dental Association and are proud that attendees learned how to improve training about treating Hispanic patients in medical and dental schools, to increase research in our communities about prevention, to call on Congress to expand immigrant healthcare insurance,  premedical pathways in Hispanic Serving Institutions with Congressman Hinojosa and Congressman Ruiz, increased healthy foods and beverages and physical activity programs with the Surgeon General and First Lady in our communities, to start a new caregiver program for the elderly with Congresswoman Lujan Grisham and to support climate change education and Puerto Rico healthcare services.

As a representative of 50,000 doctors in the U.S., here’s how I think all of us, as parents, community leaders, and policy people alike, should realize Hispanic quality health.

Parents: take physical exercise seriously. Engage your kids in gym and afterschool fitness activity programs.  Drink water not sugar. New guidelines call for reducing added sugar in a day to 20% of calories. Early habits will lead to healthy adulthood. There are numerous local community and recreational centers that exist for you.

Community and business leaders: help the U.S. Latino community navigate the current healthcare system, finance Latino medical practices and the public for their healthcare needs, and educate about health insurance. Without insurance one is not able to attend to illness regularly and the cycle of poor health continues.

Health Workforce: get training at clinics, schools and prisons. Hispanic doctors, dentists, nurses and pharmacists are underrepresented from Hispanic community and healthcare professionals should understand their patients’ stressors to improve health.

Federal and state government officials: link health education programs with agencies that create jobs, subsidize housing and utilities, support parks and schools, and expand science/math programs with health careers experiences to inspire Hispanic students toward health careers. Skilled Hispanics will direct our healthcare tomorrow and redirect resources to programs in our communities and institutions.

The U.S. has a Hispanic population of 50 million or more and by 2042 one out of four Americans will be Hispanic.  It is clear that as we focus on increasing insurance enrollment and education, we should start health education programs and research on best practices that work to incentivize employer, school, and community programs to prompt Hispanic healthy lifestyles now.  The next generation of America deserves to live a quality life following their dreams.

Quality healthcare leadership, amongst us all, can make a difference in making us a stronger community and more vibrant nation. Our public health agencies, research teams, medical schools, hospitals, clinics and healthcare systems all should have decision-makers who look like their patients. Hispanic health would be advanced much quicker with efficient interventions that are culturally competent and are inclusive of immigrants, working poor, new parents, high risk populations, as well as those who are leading healthy lifestyles in our communities linked to our institutions, media and policymakers.

This is why the NHMA believes in the outcomes of our NHMA Leadership Fellowship that has catapulted our physician leaders to join the ranks of decision-makers in the public and private sectors.  At the same time, NHMA partners with high schools, colleges and STEM organizations to mentor outstanding students in our communities so that we build diversity in the applicant pool to medical schools and other health professional schools.

Let’s start today and improve the health of all Americans.

Dr. Elena Rios is president of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

For more information on ways to address Hispanic health, visit