Latino Children’s Health

New research on Latino children’s health is available in the first issue of the Journal of Applied Research on Children.

The Latino community is now the largest ethnic group in Harris County, having surpassed the Anglo population in the past decade. Based on 2008 population estimates, Latinos accounted for 39.3% of the population of Harris County, while the proportion of Anglos was 35.9%. The trend of increasing numbers within the Latino population is also evident at the state and national level with Latinos making up 36.5% and 15.4% of the Texas and United States populations, respectively. Latinos account for 48.8% of Harris County residents younger than 18 years versus 26.3% for Anglos. This report will outline the characteristics of the Latino population under age 18, especially this group’s health or “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” as defined by the World Health Organization. It is vital to be aware of the unique issues facing this population to ensure that future resource allocation and policy change adequately reflect its needs.

The Latino population is the youngest of all ethnic groups in Houston; 35.9% are under age 17, and 83% are under age 45. In comparison, 21.1% of Anglos are under age 17 and 54.3% are under age 45. Among African Americans, 29.2% are under age 17 and 69.4% are under age 45.

Growth of the Latino population is driven by immigration and high fertility rates. One in four persons (24.8%) in Harris County was born outside of the United States, and 73.6% of these were born in Latin America. Furthermore, 45.2% of the Latino population of Harris County was born outside of the U.S., with persons born in Mexico making up the largest percentage of this group. In Harris County, Latina women have a fertility rate (births per 1000 women) of 91 compared to a rate of 48 among Anglo women.

Educational Attainment and Income
Latinos lag behind other ethnic groups in Harris County in terms of educational attainment. Of Latinos over age 25, 52.6% have achieved a level of education equal to or higher than a high school diploma, compared to 84.8% of African Americans and 84.2% of Anglos. Additionally, only 10.2% of Latinos hold a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree, compared to 19% of African Americans and 42.4% of Anglos. There is a known correlation between level of education and income level. Therefore, it is no surprise that Harris County Latinos have a lower per capita income than other groups. This holds true with a per capita income of $15,343 for Latinos, compared to $19,066 for African Americans and $45,783 for Anglos.

In Harris County, a greater proportion of the population of Latinos and African Americans than Anglos live below the Federal Poverty Line (FPL). Based on 2008 data:

  • 21.4% of Latinos live in poverty, compared to 22.8% of African Americans and 5.7% of Anglos;
  • 29.4% of Latinos under age 18 live in poverty, compared to 33.6% of African Americans and 6.3% of Anglos;
  • 24.1% of Latino families with children under age 18 live below the federal poverty line, compared to 25.3% of African Americans and 5.3% of Anglos;
  • 22.8% of Latino families with children under age 5 live below the FPL, compared to 31% of African Americans and 8% of Anglos; and,
  • Latino children in Houston are four times more likely to live at or below the poverty level than Anglo children.

Language Barrier
Approximately one-third or 33.2% of households in Harris County report speaking Spanish at home, and 18.3% of households in Harris County report speaking English less than “very well.” Within the Latino community, 47.6% of individuals report speaking English less than “very well.” Thus, the Latino community of Houston/Harris County may experience greater difficulties in accessing and utilizing health care resources secondary to this language barrier. Also of note, child trend studies which provide an overview of the trends among children, have found that among children of immigrants, infants with parents who had limited English proficiency were twice as likely to live in food insecure households (21.2%) than infants with English proficient parents (10.3%).

Evidence has demonstrated that numerous social and economic factors influence an individual’s health and even survival including level of education, employment status, health insurance, and poverty. Analysis of data from National Survey of Children’s Health elucidated the relationship between household social risk factors (including low educational attainment, income less than 200% of FPL, single-parent, African American/Latino, uninsured, family conflict, low maternal mental health, and location in unsafe neighborhood) and health outcomes in children. A cumulative impact was seen as children with a greater number of risk factors were more likely to have poor health status, social/emotional problems, poor teeth, and to be overweight than those with fewer household risk factors. This information is relevant to any dialogue on the status of children’s health. Considering the higher rates of certain social risks factors among the Latino population as outlined above, the need for greater awareness and action to address these social risk factors becomes more compelling.

Conversely, an interesting phenomenon has also been noted, termed the Latino Health Paradox. Despite higher rates of poverty, lower educational attainment, and poorer access to healthcare, overall mortality rates are lower and life expectancy is longer among Latinos compared to Anglos. Additionally, lower infant mortality rates have been noted among Latinos versus Anglos. It has been proposed that components of Latino culture may have protective effects and acts contributing factors in this phenomenon.

  • Learn more about the important legislation regarding Latino children’s health that passed during the previous Texas Legislative Session by viewing CHILDREN AT RISK’s 82nd Legislative Report.
  • American Community Survey. 2008. US Census Bureau.
  • Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division. U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Larson K, Russ SA, Crall JJ, Halfon N. Influence of multiple social risks on children’s health. Pediatrics. 2008 Feb;121(2):337-44.
  • Morales LS, Lara M, Kington RS, Valdez RO, Escarce JJ. Socioeconomic, cultural, and behavioral factors affecting Hispanic health outcomes. J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2002 Nov;13(4):477-503. Review.
  • Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.
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