After practicing for more than 20 years as a family physician in underserved areas of Los Angeles, Luis Pacheco, MD, sees a “tidal wave” of Hispanic consumers building in the United States. “It’s coming, and there is no stopping it,” says Pacheco, a former faculty member at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

NewHope360.com recently spoke with Pacheco, who is a medical celebrity on Spanish-language radio and television and the creator of the supplement brand Dr. Pacheco Naturalmente, about how this tidal wave could shape the future of wellness in America.

Why should organic, natural and healthy product companies and retailers be paying attention to the U.S. Hispanic community?

Luis Pacheco, MD: The United States is now home to at least 50 million Latinos. To put this in perspective, there are more Hispanics in the United States than there are people in Canada. To really bring it home, there are more Hispanics in the United States than there are people in Spain. So, the United States is now the mother country for Hispanics. The U.S. Hispanic community is also the fastest-growing population by far because of very high birth rates, and it is a very young population. In the next 50 years, the Latino population in the United States is expected to triple and make up about 30 percent of the U.S. population. The spending power of Hispanics in the United States is now over a trillion dollars, even with the recession.

How would you describe people’s relationship with health and wellness within the U.S. Hispanic community?

LP: Unfortunately, what we have seen with most immigrant groups over the years going back to the turn of the century is that these communities do not tend to engage in prevention. For the most part, they wait until there is a big problem—until they are really feeling poorly—before seeking care. In general, within the U.S. Hispanic community, there is a mistrust of the conventional healthcare system on the one hand. But, on the other hand, amongst Hispanics, the doctor is still a respected figure, much more revered than in other cultures. Yet, there is also that fear, well, if I go to the doctor he is going to find something wrong with me, so I won’t go to the doctor. Hispanics tend to underutilize the healthcare system for a number of reasons—obviously cultural, as well as economic. Unfortunately, many Hispanic people live without health insurance coverage. It is expensive for them to seek medical care if they have to pay cash because they cannot get to some type of free clinic.

Developing a culturally relevant message

If most immigrant groups tend to wait until a big problem pops up before seeking care, how do you take a prevention message to this community?

LP: It’s all about being able to communicate effectively in a culturally relevant way. That is the challenge here.

A growing number of natural product companies realize they need to reach Hispanic consumers, but some think that translating their packaging and collateral into Spanish is enough.

LP: It’s not. It won’t do anything. Years back, I was asked by the pharmaceutical industry to help them revise their brochures for the Hispanic population because the companies realized they were just having the brochures translated into Spanish and the content made no sense culturally or from an idiomatic standpoint.

What’s the key to being culturally relevant to Hispanics?

LP: That’s the million dollar question. It’s really about knowing how to communicate and knowing how to gain people’s attention and get your message through. Then you have to earn the Hispanic consumer’s trust. Obviously, when it comes to products, you have to give them products that produce results and help them to feel better and that they perceive as being high quality, safe and free from contamination. Remember, with a lot of folks who come from immigrant nations—Latino countries, in this case—unfortunately, there are a lot of bad products that are made with very low-quality control. There are no GMPs or standards and very little oversight. So these people will want to know whether your products are high-quality products.

Hispanics prefer supplements to RX drugs

How do Hispanic consumers tend to perceive herbal products and other supplements?

LP: The Hispanic community is much more inclined to use natural products, including herbs and teas. Alternatively, we have seen with our customers and I have seen with my patients that there is a definite mistrust of prescription medications within the Hispanic community. A lot of folks will fill the prescription, but never take it. They are much more prone to use natural products. Over the past 25-some years that I’ve been in medicine, this has been very, very consistent.

What role will U.S. Hispanics play in the country’s future of wellness?

LP: Unfortunately, when I look at the Hispanic community, I’m not seeing the future of wellness—I’m seeing the future of illness. That is going to be an enormous problem—not just for those individuals and their families, but for the whole country. The two greatest health problems within the Latino community are obesity and diabetes. The rates of these problems are much higher in the U.S. Hispanic community than in the white population. The U.S. population with the highest prevalence of diabetes is the Native American population. Number two is the Hispanic population.

The thing about diabetes is that, unless you die from a heart attack, you can live with it for years—but you also have to live with things like foot ulcers, which cost billions and billions of dollars each year to treat. Diabetics also have a higher rate of stroke and are at a much greater risk for kidney failure and dialysis, which can go on for years and is extremely expensive. They are also at significantly higher risk of developing blindness. When you combine all of these things, it is hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

What needs to be done to address this?

LP: We need to get a message out there to Hispanics—a message they can understand in terms of what their health means, what steps they can take to live a healthier life and why that is important. Number one is communicating this type of message over and over and over to hopefully get the adults to change a little bit. But I would focus a lot of effort on kids. It is much easier to educate kids and to convince kids to do things than it is adults. Hopefully the kids will start exhibiting some more positive lifestyle, eating and exercise habits, which they can pass down to their children.

Addressing this problem is going to take a lot of communication and a lot of leadership. Unfortunately, it is also going to take legislation. We are basically moving toward legislating wellness and nutrition through things like the trans fat bans and sodium-reduction initiatives. I look at health care as having to be legislated; otherwise 25 to 40 years from now, the health care costs associated with diabetes complications alone are going to be astronomical.

I’ve been talking about this diabetes epidemic within the Hispanic community for 15 years. At first people thought I was crazy, but I was seeing it happen in the clinics. The problem is, we are now seeing younger and younger diabetics. Before, if they were young, they were 25 or 30, instead of the usual 45 for type 2 diabetes. Now we frequently see 16 and 18 year olds with type 2 diabetes. I don’t know if this will bankrupt our health care system, but it will put an enormous strain on it. If you have millions of people on dialysis, who have amputations and are blind and are having heart attacks and strokes, who is going to take care of them?

One silver lining seems to be that the Hispanic community is so young, so you can have an impact by educating Hispanic children.

LP: Absolutely. The upside is that there will be tremendous opportunity to reach out and communicate with this rapidly growing demographic group. There will be an enormous opportunity to provide them with high-quality products that they trust and believe in and that they will take—especially on the natural products and dietary supplement side, because of the general mistrust of conventional medicine and prescription medication. There will be opportunities for those companies that can really effectively communicate a message and the reliability of their brand to Hispanic consumers. They are certainly going to be in the driver’s seat. And for those companies that don’t see it yet; well, they are just going to make more opportunity for the companies that do.