UB Study of A Low-Income, Largely Puerto Rican Population Documents Major Health Problems, Barriers to Health Care Smoking, Alcohol Consumption, Asthma And Diabetes Taking Heavy Toll

By Lois Baker

Release Date: November 2, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Residents of Buffalo's low-income, largely Hispanic Lower West Side are twice as sick as the U.S. population living in poverty, and face major barriers to receiving adequate health care, results of a comprehensive health survey conducted by the University at Buffalo Center for Urban Research in Primary Care has revealed.

The study provides one of the few available pictures of the health status of a pocket of the urban poor in general, and of an urban Puerto Rican population in particular.

"Very few scientific studies on local urban health needs have been conducted because you can't find funding," said Carlos Roberto Jaén, M.D., Ph.D., study project director and UB assistant professor of family medicine and social and preventive medicine. "Agencies want to fund actions, interventions, not studies to define the problems."

Also lending relevance to the findings is the fact that the study is one of the first involving Puerto Ricans, which account for three-fourths of Buffalo's Hispanics and comprise the major portion of Hispanic populations in Northeastern cities in general.

"Most existing studies of Hispanics have been done with Mexican-Americans in the South West and West," said Jaen. "Our findings are applicable to many urban Puerto Rican populations, and highlight the importance of having information from specific cities so we can know the extent of the problems."

Demographics from the survey show the population to be 54 percent Hispanic -- three-quarters of whom were Puerto Rican-born -- 29 percent non-Hispanic white and 17 percent African American. The number of men and women are nearly equal. Seventy percent are under the age of 40.

Smoking, alcohol consumption, asthma and diabetes are major problems in this population in which conventional written health information isn't particularly useful because more than a third of the residents did not complete high school.

And when members of the Hispanic population go to a hospital or doctor's office in Buffalo, they often can't communicate with the English-speaking staff and physicians, the study showed.

The results also indicate that, contrary to early assumptions, most residents of this low-income neighborhood have a place to go for health care and most are covered by some type of health insurance.

Bilingual interviewers went door-to-door from January through April 1994, contacting every seventh house in five census tracts. They completed interviews at 826 households, representing 1,873 individuals, for a response rate of about 78 percent.

• Four out of every 10 Hispanic households report problems understanding the language of the doctor or house staff.

• One out of four Hispanic adults, or 25 percent, has less than an eighth-grade education and 50 percent did not finish high school. The figures for African Americans are 13 percent, and 41 percent; for non-Hispanic whites, 12 percent and 26 percent.

• 41 percent of Hispanic respondents report their health status as fair or poor, a generally- accepted indicator of illness. The number of people living in poverty nationally who rate their health status as fair or poor is about 20 percent, Jaen said. In this study, 28 percent of African-Americans and 23 percent of non-Hispanic whites considered themselves to be in fair or poor health.

• 15 percent of Hispanics, 14 percent of African Americans and 7 percent of non-Hispanic whites have been diagnosed with asthma.

• One out of five Hispanic or African American residents 40 years or older has diabetes.

• 47 percent of the men reported drinking alcohol, with 52 percent of male drinkers considering themselves problem drinkers or alcoholics. Only 28 percent of the women drank alcohol, but within that group, 15 percent reported themselves to be problem drinkers or alcoholics.

• 47 percent of the men and 33 percent of the women 18-years-old or above are cigarette smokers. The national average is 26 percent.

The survey also reveals unrealistic attitudes concerning the dangers of AIDS. Sixty-five percent of the respondents said they have no chance of getting AIDS, yet 39 percent said they have a friend or relative with the disease. A third of the respondents did not think condoms are useful in protecting against AIDS.

The study, which includes data on many additional health issues, was funded by the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, a private Buffalo-based organization.