Story URL:
Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:24:35 PM CST

Top Stories

Tanvi Misra/MEDILL

English-speaking Latinos are more likely to sunbathe and tan indoors and less likely to use preventive measures, a new study says.

US Latinos who speak English more likely to exhibit cancer-risk behavior, study says

by Tanvi Misra
May 16, 2013

Nicole Faccio, 25, goes tanning once a month. The last time she went to an indoor tanning salon was a week ago. Faccio, who works as a consultant in New York, is from Puerto Rico and she tans to “maintain a bit of color.”

Faccio said it was the aesthetic in Puerto Rico. If she doesn’t have a tan, people question it.

“The whiter you look, it’s like why are you so white?” she said.

Faccio may be one of many English-speaking Latinas living in the U.S. who are likely to engage in behavior that puts them at risk for skin cancer, according to a recent study by the Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

“Linguistic acculturation” is correlated with certain behavioral outcomes, researchers said.

“We used linguistic acculturation in this particular study because it’s often seen as, sort of, a very good proxy for acculturation overall,” said Elliot Coups who authored the study.

Latinos need a special focus because they’re the fastest growing ethnic minority in the country, said Coups, adding that they are more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma, the most fatal type of skin cancer, at an earlier age and a more advanced stage.

The study, done by administering questionnaires to 788 Latinos residing in the Southern and Western U.S., found that English-speaking Latinos engaged in fewer cancer prevention measures than bilingual Latinos, who in turn exhibited less caution than Latinos that spoke only Spanish.

In terms of risky behaviors, 39 percent of participants reported sunbathing. Of these, younger people in the Puerto Rican, Cuban, South American and “other” subgroups reported more sunbathing than individuals of Mexican descent. Indoor tanning wasn’t as common, only 5 percent of the participants did it. Out of this, women of Cuban and “other” Hispanic descent reported indoor tanning more than Mexicans.

The reason for these results may be that conforming to western ideals of beauty accompanies linguistic acculturation, Coups said.

“That may be due to different ideals of desirability of having a tanned appearance, which is quite common in U.S. culture, more so perhaps than in many Hispanic cultures,” Coups said.

Carolina Fong, 24, is a masters student at Northwestern University from Mexico. She said people in Mexico go sunbathing if they’re near a beach but indoor tanning is not really a frequent practice.

“I would never go to an indoor tanning place,” Fong said, adding that it’s the activity of going to the beach that she enjoys. Fong said that perhaps Latinas in the U.S. tan indoors “to not feel differently” from their white friends.

For Faccio, who does tan indoors, aesthetics do come into play.

“I think right now it’s a trend, and it’s acceptable, what people think is more beautiful is when they’re tan,” she said, although she wasn’t sure it had anything to do with speaking English.

Doctors should prioritize discussions about prevention among English-speaking Hispanics, according to Coups.

Ysabel Duron, of San Francisco-based Latinas Contra Cancer, agreed and said that this may be helpful for organizations like hers.

“Research in a narrow way can help an organization like myself say, oh well, OK, maybe we need to be talking to the English-speaking Latinos and raise the volume around this issue in English as opposed to speaking to our Spanish-speaking cohort,” Duron said. She added that comparison with other minorities was required to determine if there really was an information gap.

Another limitation is that the study is unclear on the role of immigrants, said Amparo Del Castillo at the Latino Research Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“It is only when we refer to immigrants that we should be speaking of acculturation,” she said in an email. “Those born in the U.S. do not need acculturation, because they are born in the culture.”

Although they didn’t have direct data, Coups said, the longer one has been in the country, the more likely they would be to speak more English and less Spanish.

Frances Aparicio, director of the Latino studies program at Northwestern University, disagreed that linguistic acculturation was an accurate marker.

“Just language for most Latinos cannot be the only marker for acculturation and assimilation,” she said, adding that many variables come into play influencinghow one chooses to use language.

The bottom line, Coups said is that “we need to be aware of the importance of developing and delivering interventions in a culturally proficient and appropriate manner.”

Despite her critique, Aparicio said she applauded the effort to bridge health disparities in the Latino population.

“We remain so invisible,” she said. “It is important to pay attention to this population.”