Professors Alcántara and Cabassa Start RWJF-funded Project to Disaggregate Latino/a Health Data

June 30, 2016 @ 10:15 pm

According to the latest U.S. census, Latinos/as, also known as Hispanics, are the largest racial/ethnic group in the United States, representing around 15 percent of the total population. And it is forecast that by 2050 more than one in four Americans will be Hispanic.

The U.S. census defines a Latino or Hispanic as “a person of Dominican, Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” In fact, such blanket terms encompass ethnic groups from over 25 countries in the Caribbean, Central, and South America, each of which has its own history, culture, and settlement patterns in the United States.

But despite the pluralistic nature of the US Latino population, most data collection surrounding Latino health happens in aggregate, meaning it doesn’t distinguish between, say, people of Puerto Rican heritage from those of Mexican heritage.

For Drs. Leopoldo Cabassa and Carmela Alcántara, both of whom study health disparities in these specific populations, those distinctions are crucial. Together, they’ve received a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant for a new study that aims to identify the factors that either facilitate or hinder the disaggregation of Latino surveillance health data: “Disaggregating Latino Surveillance Health Data Across the Lifecourse: Barriers, Facilitators and Exemplars.”

After conducting a systematic literature review of surveillance health surveys, along with a series of qualitative interviews with stakeholders, Drs. Cabassa and Alcántara will produce a report that identifies the inhibitors and facilitators of data disaggregation, as well as examples of reliable data disaggregation techniques.

Says Dr. Alcántara: “Latina/os are an incredibly heterogenous population representing over 25 countries with varied health profiles. Health research and policies need to reflect this rich diversity. This collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is an initial step in that direction. It’s an acknowledgement that a ‘one size fits all approach’ will not yield policies that sufficiently address Latino health disparities.”

“The project represents a unique opportunity for two faculty members at the Columbia School of Social Work to join forces and build an infrastructure for developing research collaborations that deepen our School’s commitment to addressing health disparities in the Latino community,” Dr. Cabassa says.

Dr. Cabassa studies Hispanics and other racial/ethnic minorities with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, and major depression. Through community engagement, his research seeks to understand the factors that fuel racial and ethnic inequities in health and mental health care, and use this knowledge to develop and implement interventions.

Dr. Alcántara studies social determinants of mental health, sleep, and cardiovascular health. A clinical psychologist with postdoctoral training in public health and behavioral medicine, her interdisciplinary research examines how individual and contextual factors affect health in racial/ethnic and immigrant communities.