How Media and Education Can Improve Latinx Health Disparities

Last Updated on June 25, 2022 by Laura Turner

Here’s the good news: Latinx population growth is rising and projected to constitute 29% of the US demographic by 2060. Now, here’s the bad news: data continues to reveal that cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases affect Latinxs more commonly than non-Latinx whites. Inadequate access to healthcare, socioeconomic barriers, lower rates of higher education, and cultural differences foster this egregious health divide.

Clearly, these variables are interrelated and each manifests as a decline in health for a variety of reasons. Of importance here: lower education status results in less exercise, unhealthier food choices, elevated crime rates, higher environmental toxin exposures, and other conditions that worsen health. An additional mediator that is often overlooked is an ignorance to health inequities.

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An understanding of the burden of disease arguably precedes a patient visit. People unaware of their higher risk profile are purportedly less likely to seek care. Lower education attainment exacerbates this quandary since compulsory health disparity learning is exempt or delayed until college or professional school, two stages that minorities are less likely to reach.

This ominous trend perpetuates poor health outcomes and urges us to introduce health disparity awareness in the pre-undergraduate years. But targeting academic institutions will not adequately maximize benefits, since Latinxs continue to disproportionately be riddled with certain diseases even after a decline in high school dropout rates. Targeting Latinxs in the absence of academic institutions is thus warranted.

A streamlined approach borrowed from the soda industry might influence Latinxs to visit a doctor. In 1984, Coca-Cola notoriously targeted Latinxs after studying their attitudes and concerns. Although ethically contentious, this tactic resulted in higher soda consumption rates by African and Latinx Americans when compared to their white counterparts. Increasing health disparity awareness via televised advertising and other media outlets could educate Latinxs about their health burdens and push them to visit their neighboring clinics.

Improving health disparity education, via academic and non-academic platforms, will likely bring more Latinxs into the realm of medical care. Ultimately though, health inequities must be addressed with a multipronged approach. A synergistic pull-factor addressing cultural differences should be incorporated to attract Latinxs to the clinic and ameliorate the imbalanced disease burden.

Producing more culturally aware Spanish-speaking physicians could result in higher Latinx patient visits. Several anecdotes demonstrate its impact. For one, my very own Nicaraguan mother hesitated to visit a local clinic when experiencing abdominal pain with hematemesis, and instead opted to visit a distant clinic where Spanish is common. One Atlantic article similarly depicts a dogged Cuban mother who waits hours to see a Latinx doctor. Furthermore, the impersonal nature of a trio’s interactions precluded one of my patient’s sisters from visiting a physician with a medical interpreter. Stories like these are archetypal in Latinx dialogue.

Critics might argue that the population surge will increase the number of Latinx physicians and solve the problem of cultural dissonance. However, the number of Latinx physicians significantly dropped by 22% from 1980 – 2010. In 2017, only 5% of graduating medical students identified as Latinx. During a period of physician need, the sheer numbers and impending prognosis are nil and unremarkable.

While minority-oriented pre-medical programs can indelibly spark medical inquisitiveness, it is quixotic to wait for Latinx students to single-handedly mend the physician shortage. An expedited solution is to produce more culturally aware Spanish-speaking medical students from various backgrounds by implementing a Spanish requirement supplemented by a health disparity component. Another possible strategy is for medical schools to demand some level of competency in these areas upon enrollment.

Culturally-aware Spanish-speaking physicians will attract Latinxs to their clinics. This shift could even result in economic prosperity for the healthcare industry, just like it is doing for the real estate market. The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals has recently hired more culturally aware leaders to seamlessly work with their growing Latinx consumers. Because of this effort and the concomitant population growth, real estate market revenue is now spearheaded by the Latinx population. A similar move in the medical industry would thus increase revenue, and more importantly, improve Latinx health.

Longstanding and disturbing health measures highlight the importance of increasing the number of physicians who can intimately care for the growing Latinx population. Additionally, the correlation between lower education and worsened health prognoses exemplifies the relevance of increasing health disparity awareness through both academic and non-academic routes. Policy leaders, education reformers, and marketers should work to address disparities that disenfranchised groups face by enhancing their established systems. Such actions could result in a serendipitous aftermath, including promising health outcomes for millions of Latinxs.