Why Are Asians and Hispanics So Healthy?

City/county ranking of Virginia health outcomes based on potential years of life lost before age 75. Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has issued its annual Healthy Community report for the United States. As usual, the information is packaged in such a way as to highlight the health disparities between racial/ethnic groups. But the findings for Virginia, which the state-level report largely overlooks, do not fit the dominant institutional-racism narrative. It turns out that Asians are the healthiest racial/ethnic group by far. It also turns out that, despite lower incomes and education levels, Hispanics are healthier than whites. The only finding that conforms to the narrative is the blacks are the least healthy of any group.

The info-graphic to the right shows differences in health outcomes (potential years of life lost before age 75) by place and by race/ethnicity. The “place” metric compares the differences in health outcomes by city or county. There is a wide disparity (as also seen in the map above) between localities with high incomes and high levels of education and localities with low incomes and education. The worst pockets of unhealth are in far Southwest Virginia, Southside, the Eastern Shore, and older cities. No surprises there.

Far more interesting is the disparity between racial/ethnic groups, which many researchers and commentators persist in defining as a gap between whites on the one hand and blacks and Hispanics on the other — a gap matching the socio-economic divide and consistent with the paradigm of America as a nation afflicted with institutional racism and discrimination.

Yet of all major racial/ethnic groups, Asians are the healthiest. By far. Here in Virginia, according to the study, Asians experienced the lowest level of “premature deaths,” measured by years lost per 100,000 — only 2,600. Hispanics fared next best, with 3,100 years lost, whites with 6,200, and blacks with 8,700.

Another remarkable finding: Whites reported the highest incidence of poor mental health days: 1.6 for Asians, 2.7 for Hispanics, 3.5 for blacks, and 3.8 for whites.

Results conformed to stereotype for poor or fair health, while self-reported “poor health days” showed almost no difference between whites, blacks, and Hispanics. Asians reported the fewest poor health days.

The comparative good health of Hispanics in Virginia is all the more remarkable given that, as the report documents but takes little note of, Hispanics have lower high school graduation rates, have less health insurance, and have a higher rate of teen births than any other group.

Asians and Hispanics do not fit the dominant narrative of the relationship between race and health in the United States. It strikes me that these anomalies are worth exploring. Persuading public health researchers to dig deeper may be a hard thing to do, however. The received wisdom, once established, is a hard thing to dislodge.

Update: And then there’s this headline from the Roanoke Times: “Report finds death rates rise for white, middle-class Virginians.”

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11 responses to “Why Are Asians and Hispanics So Healthy?

  1. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Report should be read in conjunction with the joint Report by researchers at VCU and U. of Pittsburgh as reported by the Roanoke times. These two reports fit together like Yin and Yang. Our mythology has got the causation for decline in health in America all wrong. Our mythology is fixated on money, sex, gender, race, and victim hood. These identity making tools have been weaponized by politicians and interest groups to wage cultural wars against others for political, social, and economic advantage. This follows the playbook created by the Marxists Leninist and the fascist of the early 20th century. This for example in the 20th century destroyed the Russian Culture. The health of the Russian people, despite the enormous advances in medicine in Russia, has been in collapse ever since. See my comment found in https://www.baconsrebellion.com/forgotten-battles-missing-landmarks/.

    Our problems today are not to be found in money, sex, gender, race, and victim hood, except to the extent that these false myths are being used as weapons to tear apart the most successful nation in the history of the world. So for example, giving away free money to one group at the expense of another group creates victims out of both groups, to the harm and detriment of all. This in turn breeds whole new sets and chains of pathologies that undermine groups, society, cultures, governments, and nations.

  2. I had a somewhat similar reaction to this, and I doubt there is any genetic component at all and regret that the discussion focuses there. Apparently we are to be upset that “white privilege” and wealth doesn’t confer better health? Is that the headline? Why should it? There are cultural components at work (Asians are far less likely to be overweight) but the reality is we know the role of excess weight, lack of exercise, bad habits like smoking and drug use and alcohol abuse, and the risks are color- and culture-blind. About the only benefit of being rich is you might have more time and money for exercise, but you still have to get off the couch and do it. As noted, education can help people avoid the risks, but even that is no guarantee.

  3. The second study by VCU has an eye-opener of a chart for middle-income white folks:

  4. Yep. Drugs, obesity, tobacco and alcohol go a long way to explaining that. Self-inflicted damage. Suicide is a bit harder to explain.

  5. Is it possible that first and second etc. generation immigrants might be more energetic and more focused. Less likely to be immigrants might be less energetic, healthy and etc.?

  6. I think if you gonna look at race demographics… also need to consider median age – and immigrants may be a younger demographic.

    but the chart I submitted earlier is showing existing life expectancy DECREASING for the white middle class and we already know that life expectancy in the rural areas is also decreasing.

    We are the ONLY industrialized country on the planet where life expectancy is decreasing… and it’s geography, rural, inner city – and now according to this report – white middle class.

    So perhaps the deeper “look” should not be with respect to Hispanics and Asians who are maintaining but rather into the demographics that are decreasing in life expectancy.

  7. Look to their diets and sense of community. Most studies of “blue zones” (high percentage of people over 100) show these common factors. Not that they all eat the same thing, just a high proportion of fresh local food, with healthy fats.

    Having a connection with a community of caring people they interact with daily is also important. A study of a healthy group of immigrants that moved to the same community in America showed that those that moved elsewhere adopted the Standard American Diet (SAD), lost the community connection and developed health issues much earlier than those in the American community that they had left.

  8. Fascinating. But a word of caution: “the chart [LG] submitted earlier is showing existing life expectancy DECREASING for the white middle class” is not quite accurate — the Roanoke Times article explains, “A team from VCU and the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health looked at 20 years of deaths for each of Virginia’s cities and counties and found that overall, in the white population, death rates decreased by 16 percent. However, death rates rose dramatically among young and middle-aged whites.” Regardless of which age group caused it, the 15 year increase in overdose deaths OVERALL from 4.2% to 18.3%/100K is HUGE.

  9. Jim, you brought us this chart a while back, in your post “The Economic Cost of Virginia’s Opioid Epidemic” (11/21/17):

    Contrast that with what you posted today:

    I can’t reconcile these. The latter, “City/county ranking of Virginia health outcomes,” is notable for those large geographic groupings of low-ranked health outcomes located in SW and central Southside Va, the Northern Neck and Eastern Shore, and the older cities. But that rural distribution is not at all reflected in the graphic for opiod overdoses! So, what’s going on here? Are those areas of rural poor health in Southside, etc., NOT suffering primarily from opiods but other causes of health degradation, or, are we seeing gross misreporting of death causation from some localities?

  10. “Having a connection with a community of caring people they interact with daily is also important. A study of a healthy group of immigrants that moved to the same community in America showed that those that moved elsewhere adopted the Standard American Diet (SAD), lost the community connection and developed health issues much earlier than those in the American community that they had left.”

    “A team from VCU and the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health looked at 20 years of deaths for each of Virginia’s cities and counties and found that overall, in the white population, death rates decreased by 16 percent. However, death rates rose dramatically among young and middle-aged whites.”

    Yes, the loss of being a part of a caring community, including an extended family, or at least being a part of nuclear family and/or having roots deep in a caring and competent place, are now destroying many peoples health, competence and success, not to mention the meaning of their lives or ability to cope, and their chances even for long term survival, irrespective of race or other circumstances. The appalling lost of such communities and support infrastructures in towns like Stony Creek and Emporium, or on the eastern Shore of Virginia and parts of Maryland are also obvious to see by simply driving though. Recall my comment here I wrote on Federalsburg, Md. a few years ago. Now the plague spreads throughout white society particularly.

    See: Coming Apart, the State of White America 1960 – 2013 by Charles Murray. Or Lost Connections by Johann Hari.

  11. Anytime one looks at data and graphs – but especially so these days – need to be careful… but the media – left and right have been reporting a report put out by the CDC and below I quote one article with the caveat that “media” sometimes screws it up also so I’ve included the actual referenced CDC report:

    ” For the first time since the early 1960s, life expectancy in the United States has declined for the second year in a row, according to a CDC report released Thursday. American men can now expect to live 76.1 years, a decrease of two-tenths of a year from 2015. American women’s life expectancy remained at 81.1 years.

    The change was driven largely by a rising death rate among younger Americans. The death rate of people between the ages of 25 and 34 increased by 10 percent between 2015 and 2016, while the death rate continued to decrease for people over the age of 65.

    The only racial group that saw a significant increase in their death rate between 2015 and 2016 were black men: Their age-adjusted mortality rate increased by 1 percent.

    “What you see this year is a leveling off of the gains that we’ve had over the years, especially with heart disease and cancer,” among black men, said Garth Graham, the president of the Aetna Foundation and former head of the U.S. Office of Minority Health. “And the opioid epidemic is starting to overtake whatever gains we’ve made in that sector.”

    here is the actual CDC report circa Dec. 2017:

    https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db293.htm

    as far as the gloom and doom perspective …. as stated earlier – we are alone among the industrialized countries that have this decrease.

    We have a huge opioid problem – apparently mostly among whites… and there are at least two differences between us and ALL the other industrialized countries. First they all provide some version of universal access to health care and second they have much more lenient policies towards drugs.. i.e. they treat it as a health issue not criminal issue.

    We are – by some measures, the most affluent and prosperous country out of the 200+ on the planet – and way too many of us have apparently given up hope and are using drugs to “drop out”. Used to be if we did that with crack cocaine – we’d chuck them in prison especially if they were black… but now… well.. it’s all gotten more complicated, eh?

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