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Health Risks and Disparities Experienced by Hispanic Youth
Factors that Contribute to Health Disparities

The causes of the health disparities experienced by Hispanics are complex and include the following factors:

  • Poverty. In 2004, 29% of Hispanic children under 18 were living in poverty compared with 10% of non-Hispanic white children.1

  • Educational inequalities. In 2005, the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds who were high school dropouts was higher among Hispanics (22%) than among blacks (10%), whites (6%), and Asian/Pacific Islanders (3%).2 Hispanics are more likely than non-Hispanic white students to attend large public high schools that have greater concentrations of low-income students, less funding,3 higher student-to-teacher ratios,4 greater turnover of teachers,4 and less qualified and less experienced teachers.4-6

  • Environmental threats. Low income and ethnic minorities living in high poverty neighborhoods are at greater than average risk for exposure to environmental toxins, poor air quality, and other hazards, as well as limited access to adequate parks and recreational facilities, transportation services, grocery stores, and public safety.7

  • Access to health care. Hispanic children, compared with non-Hispanic white children, are more likely to be uninsured,8 less likely to have a usual source of health care,8 less likely to have had a health care visit in the past year,9 and less likely to have had a preventive dental care visit in the past year.9 Compared with non-Hispanic white adolescents, Hispanic adolescents reporting emotional, behavioral, or concentration problems are less likely to have access to needed mental health care services.9

  • Acculturation and language barriers. Adaptation to U.S. culture (acculturation) defined by factors such as language and length of time in the United States, has been positively associated with increased rates of obesity, substance abuse, and other indicators of poor physical and mental health.10-15 Studies have revealed that after arriving in the United States, the health status of Hispanic immigrants tends to decline.15-16 This decline may be associated with the fear of deportation (especially among undocumented immigrants) and language barriers, which have been shown to prevent Hispanics from seeking health care and information.15-16


  1. U.S. Bureau of the Census. Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the U.S.: 2004. Report P60, no. 229, Table B-2. Available at [pdf 3.64M]. Accessed on March 3, 2008.
  2. National Center for Educational Statistics: Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities. Available at Accessed on October 29, 2007.
  3. Iton A. (2006). Tackling the root causes of health disparities through community capacity building (Chapter 7) in Richard Hofreichter ed. Tackling health inequities through public health practice: a handbook for action. Washington, DC: The National Association of County and City Health Officials. Pp.115-136. Available at*. Accessed on February 23, 2007.
  4. Barton PE. (2003). Parsing the achievement gap. Princeton, NJ: Education testing Service.
  5. Acevedo-Garcia D, McArdle N, Osypuk T, Lefkowitz B, Krimgold B. (2007) Children left behind: how metropolitan areas are failing America’s children. Center for the Advancement of Health, Harvard School of Public Health. January. Available at Accessed on March 7, 2008.
  6. Poliakoff AR (2006). Closing the gap: An overview. INFOBRIEF. (January 2006) No. 44 Alexandria VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development 1-6; 2006.
  7. Hood E. Dwelling disparities: How poor housing leads to poor health. Environ Health Perspect 2005;113(5): 310-317.
  8. Children’s Defense Fund. Improving children’s health: Understanding children’s health disparities and promising approaches to address them. Washington, DC; 2006.
  9. The Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health. 2003-2004 National Survey of Children’s Health. Child Health Measures. Available at*. Accessed on May 5, 2008.
  10. Abraído-Lanza A, Armbrister A, Flórez K, Aguirre A. Toward a theory-driven model of acculturation in public health research. Am J of Public Health. 2006;96(8): 1342-1346.
  11. Vega W, Amaro H. Latino outlook: good health, uncertain prognosis. Annu Rev Public Health. 1994;(15): 39-67.
  12. Kaplan M, Huguet N, Newsom, J, McFarland B. The association between length of residence and obesity among Hispanic immigrants. Am J Prev Med. 2004;27(4): 323-326.
  13. Himmelgreen D, Pérez-Escamilla R, Martinez D, Bretnall A, Eells B, Peng Y, Bermúdez A. The longer you stay, the bigger you get: length of time and language use in the U.S. are associated with obesity in Puerto Rican women. Am J Phys Anthropol. 2004;(125): 90-96.
  14. Mainous A, Diaz V, Geesey M. Acculturation and healthy lifestyle among Latinos with Diabetes. Ann Fam Med. 2008;(6): 131-137.
  15. Morales L, Lara M, Kington R, Valdez R, Escarce J. Socioeconomic, cultural, and behavioral factors affecting Hispanic health outcomes. J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2002;13(4): 477-503.
  16. Garcés I, Scarinci I, Harrison L. An examination of sociocultural factors associated with health and health care seeking among Latina immigrants. J Immigr Health 2006;(8): 377-385.


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Page last reviewed: December 05, 2008
Page last modified: June 23, 2008
Content source: National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Adolescent and School Health

Division of Adolescent and School Health
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Department of Health and Human Services