Language of Interview, Self-Rated Health, and the Other Latino Health Puzzle

Objective measures of health for Latinos show they are as healthy or healthier than Whites, despite generally having lower socioeconomic status. Yet their own assessments of their overall health status do not agree with this. Could the difference be attributed to cultural factors or language differences?

For example, self-rated health question categories are translated into Spanish as excelente (excellent), muy buena (very good), buena (good), regular (fair) and mala (poor). However, the Spanish word regular connotes more positive meanings than fair does in English and may downwardly bias self-reports of health status.

Investigators used two data sets to look at this issue. In one, the odds of self-reporting health as poor or fair were 86 percent higher for Latinos than Whites; in another, 66 percent higher. Respondents who interviewed in Spanish were more likely to rate their health as regular than any other category and reported worse health than Latinos who interviewed in English.

Language of interview is a critical source of variation is self-reported health among Latinos. This same translation problem may be at work for people interviewed in other languages too, given that the English word fair (meaning so-so) is a difficult one to translate.