Despite the broad array of research that exists on the Hispanic health paradox, no single explanation has been marked as the dominant reason for the disparities in life expectancy that exist between Mexican Americans and other Hispanic and non-Hispanic ethnic groups. This indicates that researchers must adopt a more open perspective that examines the influence of multidimensional factors that integrate culture, religious tradition, and lifestyle. The purpose of the current study is to 1) readily define the paradox and provide a thorough review of existing literature on the topic; 2) suggest a transition from exploring statistical explanations of the paradox to critically assessing health-related behaviors and influences such as familial support when trying to explain the paradox in the context of certain Hispanic ethnic groups; 3) elucidate sociocultural factors unique to Mexican American communities and their implications on Mexican health outcomes; and 4) consider avenues for further research concerning life expectancy and the paradox. The Mexican American health paradox is related to observable health-related influences, rather than statistical misrepresentation. Familial structure is one component that results in better physical health among members of this ethnic group. Still, similar familial bonding in Cuban American and Native American culture has not resulted in similar health outcomes, indicating additional factors behind the health advantage. The presence of an alternative-health care system with a more emotionally significant practitioner-client relationship appears to be the main factor that separates Mexican Americans from the other ethnic groups. In turn, this distinctive system, referred to as curanderismo, has a positive impact on both physical and mental health, and is bolstered by consistent family systems. By capturing the Hispanic health paradox in a holistic analysis of the existing explanations in current literature and specific ethnic characteristics, this project begins to conceptualize which factors have a greater contribution to the advantageous health outcomes of Mexican Americans relative to other influences. It also indicates the possible usefulness of sociocultural factors in explaining the paradox in the context of other Hispanic ethnic groups as well.
Thumbnail by Lilo Bambú
Merit George is a Presidential Scholar double majoring in Biology and Psychology in VCU’s Honors College. In addition to studying the epidemiological health paradox, he has conducted research in bioinformatics, behavioral pharmacology of drug abuse and neonatal clinical courses and health outcomes at the Children's Hospital of Richmond.
George is also a co-founder of the UNICEF Campus Initiative at VCU and is actively involved in clinical volunteer efforts at VCU Medical Center and the Richmond Center for High Blood Pressure. George aspires to be a physician and aims to continue his research within the medical arena.