For many years, researchers have studied what's known as the "Hispanic Paradox." It's the discovery that Hispanic Americans appear to live longer than white Americans. But, a recent study by the Joint Center for the Political and Economic Studies, health in the San Joaquin Valley shows that might be changing here. It says while first generation immigrants are living long lives, future generations born in the U.S. are living fewer years.
We went to the Richard Prado Senior Center where every Tuesday morning, there's a dance. Inside, seniors salsa and swing on a packed dance floor.
"I am 61, and I feel like i am 15," laughed Juanita Padilla. "Especially when I come to this place."
Juanita Padilla is here almost every week. She's a first generation Mexican immigrant who arrived in California when she was seven. This is one way Padilla keeps her body and culture alive and well.
"Oh my God! Those ones are my favorite ones. The ones that you move a lot," exclaimed Padilla about the different types of cultural dances they do.
Traditional Mexican lifestyle is a lot about movement, at all ages, and making food, working the land, or one's craft.
"I like to make my own food," explained Padilla. "I like to make my own homemade tortillas. I make my homemade tortillas, I make my own soup. And, that's all I like to eat. I don't like McDonald's. You'll never catch me at a McDonald's or Burger King. That's for young people. That's not for me."
Like Juanita, many first generation immigrants carry on those traditions in the United States. But, those ways are weakening with time.
"I think that we're going to see the life expectancy shorten in the second generation," said Rose McCleary, Director for Social Work at CSUB.
McCleary agrees with the latest life expectancy research on the San Joaquin Valley. It finds while first generation Hispanics are living long lives, second and third generations are dying at younger ages.
"I really believe that because of things like the fast food, maybe they smoke now, maybe their income. They live in poverty still, so I think that nice effect of living longer and being healthy is probably going to start to disappear slowly in that second generation," explained McCleary.
The website, www.healthykern.org shows nearly half of the county's population is Hispanic. And, Kern County ranks among the highest in the state for hospitalizations due to diabetes.
"We're seeing more diabetes in kids that are 13 or 14 years old because of the sedentary lifestyle. They increase their weight and they become diabetic," explained Dr. Carlos Alvarez, an Internist at Valley Medical Center.
Dr.Carlos Alvarez says as traditional Mexican customs go away, so do years off the lives of later generations.
"If you go to a Mexican home, especially in the rural area, and if you see the food they are going to eat, it's going to be a lot of vegetables, some meat. There's going to be a lot of tortillas, maybe," explained Alvarez. "You start changing your food habits, you start changing your activities, you start losing a lot of the courtesy, you know, you become a little rougher. Unfortunately, that's what it is."
From processed food to polluted air, Hispanics who moved to the Valley spend fewer years breathing in the bad air compared to those born here. And, McCleary believes some first generation Hispanics go back to their homeland when they get up in years, affecting their life expectancy rate in the U.S.
"Maybe folks, when they get older, they go back to Mexico and get their health care and then don't come back because they are too ill," explained McCleary.
The seniors dancing at the Richard Prado Senior Center continue to carry on the customs they grew up with, kicking up their heels and trying to pass on their secrets that keep first generation Hispanics, like Juanita, moving well into the golden years.
"I am 61 and I feel active," shared Padilla. "I feel good. I feel like I'm 15 for reals, for reals."
Rose McCleary says she believes more help in addressing some of the health issues among the poorer Hispanic population is coming as more advocates are made aware of the situation.
For a look at the complete study, go to the KGET.com home page and look for the Hot Link.