Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Health disparities in Philadelphia’s Latino community

ZIP code 19133 is heavily Latino, predominantly impoverished, and the health of its residents is not what it should be.

We continue our series on race and health in Philadelphia today, joined by Cynthia Figueroa, president and CEO of Congreso de Latinos Unidos, who shares her expert insight into the state of health in Philadelphia's Latino community.

- Michael Yudell

Health disparities are differences in health outcomes as a result of demographic, social, or environmental attributes. In the Latino community, cultural and linguistic barriers can compound disparities and lead to unfavorable and unhealthy outcomes. Poverty also exacerbates health issues, creating inequities in health-care access and treatment. At  Congreso de Latinos Unidos, a multiservice non-profit organization that focuses on well-being of Philadelphia's Latino community, we see the impact of disparities in health every day.

For example, the 19133 zip code, where the majority of Congreso's clients reside, had the highest percentage of people in poverty (56.4%) in 2011–nearly double the citywide rate (28.4%), which itself was the highest recorded in Philadelphia in years.

The region surrounding the 19133 zip code—located in North Philadelphia east of Broad Street—is home to the vast majority of the city's Latino community. In spite of the multiple challenges it faces, this vibrant community is civically engaged, rich in arts and culture, and includes committed businesses. Having worked here for numerous years, I am often struck by how often it is mentioned in the news because of its high crime rates and because it has the highest high school drop out rate in the city. Yet few outsiders really know this community—either its beauty or its challenges.

A democracy is only as strong as its people.  We need to be aware of health disparities in our nation, and especially in our city, and address  them. Healthy communities may be more economically productive but we should not fail to notice the human costs associated with some of the challenges faced in places like 19133.

Consider these statistics:

Infant Mortality:

  1. Infants born to teenage mothers are at higher risk of having a low birth weight and a higher mortality rate. The rate of teen births in the 1st Congressional District, which includes 19133, is 97 .6 per 1,000 population. The citywide rate is 52.7—and that's one of the worst counties in the nation.

  2. The rate of infant, neonatal, and post-natal deaths among Latinos in Philadelphia in 2010 was 8.9 per 1,000 live births, significantly higher than their white counterparts' rate of 5.5 .

  3. 16% of the women in the 1st Congressional District who gave birth in 2010 did not receive prenatal  care or started it late,  slightly above the citywide average.


  1. Obesity disproportionally affects Latinos. In 2010, 71% of Latino adults in Philadelphia were obese, compared to 61.7% of non-Hispanic whites, the city Department of Public Health reported.

  2. 50.1% of Latino children ages 6-17 were overweight or obese in 2011, compared to 30.7% non-Hispanic whites.


  1. Racial  and ethnic disparities show up here as well: 16.7% of Latino adults in Philadelphia reported being diagnosed with diabetes, according to the 2012 Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey, compared to 12.1%  of  whites, 20.2% of blacks and 12.8% of  Asians.

  2. Latinos with diabetes are significantly more at risk for complications due to diabetes. Clinicians' knowledge of the language and culture of their patients directly impacts communication and adherence to treatment recommendations.


  1. In ZIP code 19133 at the end of 2009,  3,143 of every 100,000 people (3.14%) were living with an HIV or AIDS diagnosis (making it the zip code with the second highest rate in the city);  90% of them were Latinos.

  1. 14.4 % of people living with HIV/AIDS in Philadelphia in 2011 were  Latino, 62.9 % were black, and 19.3% were white.

As these statistics demonstrate, addressing the health needs of all  Philadelphians is critical to the future and the economic health of our city. The biggest challenge may simply be becoming aware of the major racial and ethnic disparities in the city and other communites throughout the region. Once aware, how does one not get involved in trying to change them?

Read more about The Public's Health.