New report is ‘roadmap’ of South Texas health disparities

The South Texas Health Status Review is the first comprehensive statistical analysis of the health disparities that impact South Texans.

Diabetes and obesity are the two most significant health disparities in South Texas, according to a new report produced by the Institute for Health Promotion Research at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The South Texas Health Status Review, released in April, urges health workers, researchers and policymakers to focus their efforts on reducing obesity because of its link to many other major health issues.

The report is the first comprehensive statistical analysis of the health disparities – differences in the disease burden among certain population groups compared to non-Hispanic whites – that impact South Texas residents.

South Texans more prone to obesity and other health issues
“Our review found that inequalities exist in obesity and several other health issues in South Texas, especially among Hispanics/Latinos, compared to those who live in the rest of Texas or nation,” according to Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H., review leader and professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the Health Science Center.

For the review, Dr. Ramirez’ Institute for Health Promotion Research teamed up with the UT Health Science Center’s Regional Academic Health Centers in Harlingen and Edinburg and the Texas Department of State Health Services. The team collected, analyzed and organized county, state and national data on 32 health indicators, specifically targeting the 38-county South Texas region. The region has a 68-percent Hispanic/Latino population that faces barriers to health care, such as the lack of education, income and insurance.

The results compare South Texans’ incidence, prevalence and mortality rates for the 32 health indicators – from AIDS to cancer to obesity to homicide – to the rest of Texas and the nation by age, sex, race/ethnicity and rural/urban location.

Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H., professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, and director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the Health Science Center, led the review project.

The review found that South Texas residents were at a disadvantage, regarding the incidence of disease, compared to the rest of Texas for 12 of the 32 health indicators analyzed, including diabetes, obesity, birth defects, and cervical, liver, stomach and gallbladder cancers. Also, incidence rates for many of the 32 health indicators were higher for South Texas Hispanics than non-Hispanic whites.

Review to stimulate, direct new studies
“We hope the review will give researchers and public health officials insight into what disparities exist in South Texas that will stimulate and shape research and interventions to reverse those disparities and bring health parity to Texas,” Dr. Ramirez said.

The review identified obesity and diabetes as two of the top health disparities in South Texas. Including all of South Texans as a group, 30 percent are obese, a much higher rate than the 25-percent obesity rate for Texas and the nation’s 23 percent. And 34 percent of South Texas Hispanic residents are obese, compared to the 22-percent obesity rate of South Texas’ non-Hispanic whites.

“In the review, we recommend that research in South Texas focus on obesity, as it spurs risk of diabetes and chronic disease,” said Dr. Ramirez, who also is the Dielmann Chair in Health Disparities Research and Community Outreach and the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Endowed Chair in Cancer Healthcare Disparities and Outreach at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at the Health Science Center. “Also, behavioral and community-level interventions should target physical activity and nutrition, the modifiable factors that impact obesity.”

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $576 million and 5,000 faculty and staff, the UT Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The UT Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to seven campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 23,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit

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