Latin Americans – those who trace their ancestry to Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico or Central America and South America – are the fastest-growing group in the United States. Traditionally, a diet filled with whole grain corn, vegetables, fruits, beans, rice, herbs and spices has combined with a strong emphasis on family life, to support good health.

As Latin Americans adopt a more typically Americanized diet and lifestyle, however, they are at higher risk for many chronic diseases. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these heightened risks vary among Latin Americans, and include:

  • A higher prevalence of overweight and obesity among Mexican American men, compared to non-Hispanic white men and non-Hispanic black men.
  • Higher rates of asthma among Puerto Ricans – 2.2 times that of non-Hispanic whites, and 1.8 times that of non-Hispanic blacks, while Mexican Americans have some of the lowest rates of lifetime asthma.
  • A diabetes death rate for Latin Americans that is almost one-and-a-half times higher than for non-Hispanic whites.

Although all these health problems cannot be addressed solely through diet, a return to some of the traditional foods that sustained their ancestors, as detailed on Oldways’ Latin American Diet Pyramid, can often help Latin Americans maintain or regain their health. Please visit our Health Studies page, to search for studies that touch on Latin American health issues.