UCLA professor speaks about U.S. health disparities

Adrian Dizon/HIGHLANDER

On Friday, Feb. 17 at 4 p.m. in HUB 355, Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at UCLA David E. Hayes-Bautista came to speak at UCR for a School of Public Policy (SPP) event and book signing titled “Metrics for Latino Wellness Management in an Increasingly Racially Ambiguous Population.”

After being introduced, Hayes-Bautista mentioned race, poverty, education and access to health care as the primary determinants of health to researchers. Considering the increasing amount of racially ambiguous populations in the U.S., Hayes-Bautista discussed how race will play a role in the future of measuring health disparities.

“Let’s look at all causes of death (…) Who has the worst risk factors? Latinos. Who should have the higher death rate for all causes of death? Should be Latino, but it’s not,” Hayes-Bautista challenged. He proceeded to share that Latinos have a three-year longer life expectancy than non-Hispanic whites. Despite having, on average, lower poverty rates, higher levels of education and greater access to health care, non-Hispanic whites still have higher mortality rates than Hispanics.

Additionally, Hayes-Bautista expressed his belief that the categories being used today to measure race such as “black, white, Asian, Native American and Hispanic” are unable to capture what is needed to measure health, but rather, “racial narratives” would be better determinants to use. “Latinos have befuddled the U.S. ever since 1848. What race were Latinos?” Hayes-Bautista asked, then explaining how the census was inaccurate due to citizens being racially categorized according to a judge’s determination.

With census information currently recorded through self-determination of one’s racial background, Hayes-Bautista still feels that the results are still not entirely accurate because of the racial categories given to choose from. According to his powerpoint presentation, the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau defined Hispanic as being “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”  

Because of the mixing of races in the U.S., Hayes-Bautista created the “Indo-Afro-Oriento-Ibero” racial narrative to explain the difference in comparison to the binary racial narrative. In the future, Hayes-Bautista explained that the “two or more races” category on the census in 2010, made up only around three percent of the U.S. population, but believes this category will rise drastically in the next few decades, no longer making it an insignificant category.

Hayes-Bautista concluded that continuing to use race to determine health disparities would be difficult going forward because “millennials are increasingly reluctant to identify themselves by race (…) you’re going to have maybe half the population say ‘that’s not me.’ How do we measure disparity? Doesn’t mean we’re going to be a post-race society at all by the way. But just our standard measures are not gonna give us the information that we need to track disparities and wellness.”

Hayes-Bautista ended the seminar by posing the question of what metrics would be used in the future to measure and categorize health disparities, which is a premise of his ongoing research. According to his studies, future generations in the U.S. are expected to be around 41 percent racially ambiguous.

“I expected answers. But I got more questions,” joked third-year philosophy and sociology major Kevin Deleon when reflecting on the event. “The number one takeaway to that was how millennials didn’t want to categorize themselves by race, which I feel like, is very apparent.”

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