Taking an in-depth look at health issues affecting the Latino community in North Texas

Published on
July 16, 2012

I will be reporting on three health issues that affect Latino families in North Texas, as part of my National Health Journalism Fellowship.

The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area has the fourth-largest Mexican and the fifth-largest Salvadoran communities in the United States, according to a Pew Hispanic Center report. Thousands of Hondurans (26,000) and Guatemalans (18,000) also live in this region.

People identifying themselves as Hispanics represent 28% of the 6.3 million residents of the DFW area. In Dallas, Latinos are 42% of the population. And Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country.

Health and immigration issues are important to this demographic.

Drug-related violence in Mexico and in Central America has escalated in the past five years, with crimes becoming more and more brutal. Crossing the border also has turned more dangerous.

Multiple studies show that exposure to trauma has a toll on mental health, leaving individuals at increased risk for depression and PTSD, among other health issues.

As part of my fellowship, I will explore  the psychological impact of the violence in Mexico on Mexican and Central Americans families, especially women and children living in North Texas.

Most of the 1.7 million Hispanics in Dallas-Fort Worth are between the ages of 5 and 17, according to Census data analyzed by the Pew Center. Most of them were born in the United States.

In Texas, which has the fourth-higest rate of teen births, teenagers' access to contraception is restricted. Dallas is the city with the third-highest percentage of repeat teen births,according to ChildTrends analysis. Many of those babies are the sons and daughters of Latinos, whose parents were also teenagers when they had them.

Teen pregnancies bring health risks for both the mother and the child. Adolescent mothers are also more likely to drop out of school and end up in welfare. Their children are two times more likely to suffer abuse and neglect, according to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

I plan to explore the link between child neglect and teen pregnancy in the Dallas Latino community. As part of my reporting, I will look into programs to help teens become better parents, avoid repeat teen pregnancies and child mistreatment. I will be particularly keeping an eye out for programs that strive to be culturally sensitive.

I will also look into the challenges faced by Spanish-speaking immigrant Latino families with autistic children in North Texas. What barriers do they face? How do they cope? Is the system failing these children?

I begin my journey with a lot of questions in mind, but hopeful that in the end my stories will be helpful to readers and assist them in making informed decisions.