The 2010 Census revealed that one in every six U.S. residents is Hispanic. The U.S. Hispanic population ranks second worldwide. Unfortunately, the growing Hispanic population experiences similar health issues as non-Hispanics but the prevalence may be higher. Hispanics have a higher prevalence of obesity than non-Hispanic whites. Also, Hispanics experience higher rates of obesity-related diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and cancer. Actually, heart disease is the leading cause of death among Hispanics.
The good news is that Hispanics worry about their health, especially on behalf of their family. A life-threatening illness can affect their ability to provide for their family. They have a broad definition of health treatment that includes mainstream medicine, tradition, traditional healing and a strong religious component.
You may be asking, if they worry so much about their health, then why is it that their health is in such critical condition? Let’s review some lifestyle and diet characteristics that make this transition difficult for most Hispanics:
- Acceptance of over-eating, large portions
- Lack of exercise
- Cultural isolation often due to immigration status
- Acceptance of larger body size
- Traditional dishes are usually high in calories and fat
- Cultural celebrations are centered around food
- Poor eating habits
- Lack of nutrition knowledge
- Consume more fats and oils products
- Diets tend to be less healthy, based on level of acculturation and time spent in the United States.
Overall, Hispanics spend a higher percentage of income on food compared to U.S. population as a whole. There is great diversity among Hispanics living in the United States, which results in different needs. When reaching your Hispanic customer, keep the following tips in mind:
Acknowledge and embrace cultural differences. Learn about the diet and food habits of your Hispanic customers (ask them), and learn about the foods and brands preferred by Hispanics (high brand loyalty among Hispanics). Explore expanding the variety of brands you provide. Per-sonalize messages to focus on their family lifestyle to include their children and extended family. Also, focus on the positives that can have an impact while maintaining cultural relevance.
- Make culturally-relevant foods or recipes more healthful
- Recommend low fat dairy, milk and yogurt
- Recommend leaner cuts of meat and poultry and fish twice a week
- Recommend more fruits and vegetables
- Recommend both whole and enriched grains.
Do the research. Learn about the goods and services that cater to Hispanic tastes and preferences in cuisine and lifestyle, and embrace their culture by watching Spanish television, reading Hispanic magazines or reading and using their favorite cookbooks. Partner with local restaurants and health professionals who work with the Hispanic community.
It’s not always easy for Hispanics to keep healthy habits, but there are some things they can do to stay fit that don’t take that much time or effort. I recommend starting with a healthy breakfast helps. A new survey from Kellogg’s found that although 9 out of 10 Hispanic moms want their kids to eat breakfast every day, 40% report that the children don’t eat breakfast daily. Missing this important meal is not ideal.
Monitor food choices carefully. What you eat and how much you eat are critical factors in maintaining a healthy weight. Eat fewer calories by serving smaller portions and eating slowly helps. If you want to loose half a pound of weight in a week, you’ll need to burn up to 250 extra calories per day.
Reduce fat intake. The Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming no more than 25 to 35% of calories from fat.
Consume more fruits and vegetables. The newly released Myplate recommends filling half of the plate with fruits and vegetables.
Think smaller. Pay attention to what you’re eating.
Stop dieting. We love the idea of a quick fix, but the American Dietetic Association says fad diets don’t teach balanced eating habits necessary for a lifetime of weight management.
Sylvia Meléndez-Klinger is a registered and licensed dietitian, a member of the Grain Foods Foundation and owner and president of Hispanic Food Communications.