Parkinson’s Disease among Hispanics and Whites

TABLE 1. Parkinson’s disease cases and population by gender, age, race/ethnicity, and year, Kaiser Permanente, 1994–1995

* Person-years by race/ethnicity are for age 30 years or older.

  Total Total person-years
Overall 588 4,776,038
Gender (all ages)










Age (years)






















Non-Hispanic White

















According to the Willis et al. study from 2010 (and illustrated from the table above, reproduced from the Eeden et al. study of 2003), the neurodegenerative condition Parkinson’s disease afflicts a disproportionate number of Caucasians and Hispanics as compared to African Americans and Asians. In the Willis study in particular, whites and Hispanics developed Parkinson’s at twice the rate of blacks and Asians. Genetic variables are predicted to explain only a small fraction of the variance between groups; rather, Willis speculated that that, “Environmental factors are likely more common contributors and may include prolonged exposures to herbicides and insecticides used in farming or to metals such as copper, manganese and lead” (News Medical). Another proposed reason for the difference was presence of a gene in those of Asian or African ancestry that confers protection from the disease.

Instead of a tangible, objective biological category, race is a social construct used to justify social hierarchies and oppression, discrimination, and persecution of certain groups and the privilege afforded to others. As cited in Taz’s lecture, genetic determinism is the notion that genetic endowment dictates our temperaments, behavior, intelligence, and health; in other words, the arbitrary demarcations between ‘races’ are used as a proxy for genetics such that overarching assumptions about health and disease predispositions are inferred. This theory is used to equate biological race and genetic similarities. For instance, BiDil designed and marketed its product for hypertension based on racial bifurcations based on health disparities between ‘races’, although such inequalities in heart disease are most likely owed to extraneous variables such as SES, prejudice, differential access to healthy food, less health insurance, etc. In reality, a constellation of factors including social, cultural, behavioral, psychological, and physiological parameters determine health outcomes, though Western medicine tends to favor biological explanations for divergent health over cultural or environmental ones.


News Medical. Editor. 2010. 13 July 2012 < /Epidemiological-study-shows-Parkinsons-disease-is-more-common-among-whites-and-Hispanics.aspx>.

Van Den Eeden, S.K., Tanner, C.M, Bernstein, A.L, Fross, R.D., Leimpeter, A., Block, D.A., & Nelson, L.M. (2003). “Incidence of Parkinson’s Disease: Variation by Age, Gender, and Race/Ethnicity”. American Journal of Epidemiology, 157(11): 1015-1022.

Willis, A.W., Evanoff, B.A., Lian, M., Criswell, S.R., & Racette, B.A. (2010). “Geographic and Ethnic Variation in Parkinson Disease: A Population-Based Study of US Medicare Beneficiaries”. Neuroepidemiology, 34: 143-151.


2 thoughts on “Parkinson’s Disease among Hispanics and Whites

  1. I agree with the points made by Alicia that health disparities between races for a predetermination toward certain types of diseases such heart disease and hypertension are more likely to be due to a combination of economic, cultural and environmental factors that a person’s race. It is true there can be a genetic component, but that has nothing to do with a person’s race. It is genetic.I do not know if genetic endowment dictates that a person will develop a certain type of disease such as Parkinson’s. My mother died from Parkinson’s and no one else in my family has ever had it to my knowledge. So it having a genetic cause is unlikely, perhaps it is more to do with environment are stress factors. That seems more logical, if one were to make that assumption. I never considered the thought of Parkinson’s as a “white person’s” disease, it never even occurred to me. I do not think racial categories are in any way useful in clinical studies and they do offer any useful information regarding health disparities. In most diseases the factors that influence them or more environmental or economic rather that racially based.
    As Taz has stated in her lecture people’s tendencies to acquire certain diseases has more to do with non-genetic factors–socioeconomic, education, wealth. People of any race will be affected by stress which can affect their heart and have a psychological effect as well. There are other ways of explaining racial disparities other than just race. There is no proof that race-based medicine is more effective than other types of medicine used for the same diseases. Race cannot be blamed on a certain disease if their are no biologically discrete races as Taz stated in the lecture.

  2. I had no idea that Parkinson’s Disease is more prevalent among Hispanics and Whites. Parkinson’s has always been an interesting disease for me because my grandma is affected by it, and I like knowing more about it.

    I liked your use of the lecture material in your explanation of the relationship between race, genetics, and health. I would agree that race is largely a social construct created by our culture, economics, and politics, rather than a predetermined genetic outline. I also agree that modern Western medicine tends to favor biological explanations for illness rather than cultural, psychological, or other factors. However, I do believe that health professionals would only be better helping their patients by also taking into account these other variables in disease and illness.

    As there are no biologically discrete races, it seems to me that racial categories would be of limited use in clinical studies. I think it is more important that the researchers recognize the cultural, socioeconomic, and genetic factors that affect disease prevalence in certain group of people. However, it would be very difficult to take all factors into account at once during a clinical study. I don’t think race can be considered the sole contributing factor to any disease. A person’s tendency to contract a certain disease should be related to other more tangible factors, such as economics, culture, family history, and environment.

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