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Disparities/Minority Health

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Acculturation plays a pivotal role in the health status and behaviors of Latinos in the United States

Depending on the measure of acculturation used (for example, English language proficiency or years in the United States), and factors such as age or sex, acculturation may have a negative, positive, or mixed effect on the health of Latinos. According to a study supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS00008), Latinos with greater acculturation tend to have more substance abuse problems (drugs, alcohol, and smoking), poorer dietary practices, and worse birth outcomes (for example, low birthweight, prematurity, and teen pregnancy) than their less-acculturated peers.

On the other hand, Latinos who are more acculturated also tend to have more physical, vision, and dental checkups and are more likely to have health care insurance and use preventive services such as Pap smears and mammograms. The impact of acculturation is mixed in other cases, such as cesarean section (go to Editor's Note). Marielena Lara, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of California, Los Angeles, and her colleagues reviewed existing studies (most done on people of Mexican origin) on the possible relationships between acculturation and selected health and behavioral outcomes among Latinos.

The researchers recommend that clinicians promote the maintenance of healthy behaviors (such as the traditionally healthy Latino diet) among less acculturated Latinos and promote the reacquisition of these behaviors among the more acculturated. They also encourage further research to examine the impact of acculturation on specific areas such as nutrition, substance abuse, birth outcomes, and mental health of Latinos.

See "Acculturation and Latino health in the United States: A review of the literature and the sociopolitical context," by Dr. Lara, Cristina Gamboa, M. Iya Kahramanian, M.P.H., and others, in the April 2005 Annual Review of Public Health 26, pp. 367-397.

Editor's Note: A related study found a mixed impact of acculturation on rate of cesarean section among Latinas born in the United States relative to Spanish-speaking women born in Mexico. For more details, see Zlot, A.I., Jackson, D.J., and Korenbrot, C. (2005, March). "Association of acculturation with cesarean section among Latinas." (AHRQ grant HS07161). Maternal and Child Health Journal 9(1), pp. 11-20.

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