Nearly one-third of respondents in a survey of Latino adults in the District said they had not been to the doctor in more than two years -- a sign of the precarious health situation of many local Hispanics, according to a new report.
The report, by the nonprofit Council of Latino Agencies, also found that about 41 percent of the Hispanics polled lacked health insurance, compared with a rate of about 15 percent among all U.S. residents.
The findings released last week came from face-to-face interviews with 819 adult Latinos living in Wards 1, 2 and 4, home to about three-quarters of the District's Hispanics.
The study's authors cautioned that those interviewed were not completely representative of the city's Latino population because the pollsters left out many neighborhoods with a lower density of Hispanic residents, including some of the District's wealthier areas.
"It is not representative of 100 percent of D.C. Latinos. But it is representative of 75 percent of D.C. Latinos," said Kristin Jerger, director of health policy for the council and a co-author of the study.
The survey was carried out because of a lack of health statistics about Latinos in the District, said Eugenio Arene, executive director of the Council of Latino Agencies.
The profile that emerged "was alarming to us," he said.
For example, 61 percent of the respondents said they were overweight or obese. One in every five women surveyed had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, compared with 1 in 25 American women overall who have been pregnant and had the illness.
The city's Latino population is about 47,000, according to 2004 U.S. Census estimates. It has grown rapidly in recent decades because of immigration.
Over 99 percent of those interviewed in the new study were born outside the United States. Like many Latino immigrants nationwide, they reported having relatively low levels of education and earnings.
One of the main reasons Latinos don't seek medical care is the cost, which is particularly burdensome for those lacking insurance, the report noted.
D.C. Health Director Gregg A. Pane praised the study, saying its results would be incorporated into a new city health plan.
"We need this kind of drill-down into subpopulations around the District," Pane said. "It's really helpful in designing our own strategies, how we're going to attack things in different neighborhoods."
Pane said authorities hope to focus on a few areas "where we know we can make an impact" on Latino health and start working on them this year.
Jerger said one example of a problem that could quickly be addressed is the high incidence of gestational diabetes. The illness results in high blood-sugar levels in pregnant women, and can harm their health and their children's.
"This is something we can identify a simple cause [for], and intervene," Jerger said. "It could be something as simple as people thinking drinking juice during their pregnancy is healthy. Which it is -- but not to drink it like water."
The District provides health coverage for many of the city's poorest, including some illegal immigrants. Pane said part of the problem is informing low-income residents about such coverage.
Community-based health clinics could be filling the gap for some Latinos who lack insurance, the report said. Seven of 10 Latinos surveyed said they would go to a clinic or health center if they were sick or needed medical information.
The research team that produced the study included members of the Council of Latino Agencies, the D.C. Department of Health and the George Washington University School of Public Health.