Optimistic Latinos have healthier hearts: study

CHICAGO, March 30 (Xinhua) -- Latinos who are the most optimistic are more likely to have healthy hearts, a study posted on the website of the University of Illinois (UI) Friday showed.

To explore whether the effect persisted across heritage groups, the study, conducted on more than 4,900 people of Latino or Hispanic ancestry living in the United States, used a sample that was much more diverse.

Latinos of Mexican heritage composed more than 37 percent of the participants, followed by Latinos of Cuban descent, 20 percent; Puerto Rican, 15.5 percent; Dominican, 11.5 percent; Central American, 7.4 percent; and South American, 4.7 percent.

Participants' cardiovascular health was assessed using the American Heart Association's "Life's Simple 7" metrics, including blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels, dietary intake, physical activity and tobacco use.

Individuals' level of dispositional optimism, their expectation that good things will happen in the future, was measured using the Life Orientation Test-Revised. The test asks participants how much they agree with statements such as, "In uncertain times, I usually expect the best." Possible scores range from least optimistic six to most optimistic 30.

Levels of optimism differed by ancestry, the researchers found. Latinos of Cuban and Central American heritage were the most optimistic, while Latinos of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage were the least likely to be positive thinkers.

Latinos with the highest levels of optimism also tended to be older, married or living with a partner, better educated and more affluent, the researchers found.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latinos born outside the United States have 50 percent lower rates of cardiovascular disease compared with Latinos who are born in the Untied States.

"Problems with access to health care, affordability and the shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists who speak Spanish are significant challenges for Latino populations in the U.S.," said principal investigator Rosalba Hernandez, a professor of social work at UI. "We need to find accessible, cost-effective ways of utilizing technology to help vulnerable populations."

The study is part of a larger project called the Hispanic Community Health Study or Study of Latinos, conducted from 2008 to 2011, which included more than 16,400 Latinos living in California, Florida, Illinois and New York.