Oct. 14, 2010 — -- A new government report on life expectancy confirms what researchers call the "Hispanic paradox" -- that Hispanics live longer that Caucasians and African Americans in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control data, Hispanics born in 2006 have a life expectancy of 80 years, seven months. That compares to about 78 years for whites and just under 73 years for blacks.
The paradox is that affluence and education appear to have little to do with longevity. The nation's Hispanic population has lower levels of both.
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It's the first time that researchers have confirmed the trend with hard numbers because until recently, the government didn't keep track of Hispanics as a separate ethnic group.
So what are the real-world reasons driving the data?
Scientists have several theories.
One is that immigrants who make it to the U.S. are among the hardiest from their home countries, and some 40 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population was born elsewhere. They also may bring with them a healthier diet and lifestyle.
"They do smoke less," said Dr. Jane Delgado, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. "They do walk more. They do eat healthier foods as best they can, and they eat more at home as a family. All those things are protective factors towards health."
Researchers say long-term health has a lot to do with diet, and immigrants are far less likely to indulge in the types of fattening foods that have expanded the American waistline. Instead of fast food and processed products, immigrants tend to favor fruit, vegetables, rice and beans.
Experts add that Hispanic immigrants eat far less red meat, instead consuming less-expensive chicken.
Besides a healthy diet, Hispanic immigrants also have the strong social bonds with family and friends that longevity experts say promote a long and happy life -- including drinking and smoking less.
"If you lose that family connectedness, then you tend to have more health problems," said Delgado. "The people across the board who live oldest and healthiest are people who are part of social networks."
Health Habits Decrease Over Time
Still, the healthy habits that immigrants have when arriving in this country aren't permanent. Within a generation, behaviors can change and assimilate to American norms.
"People eventually ride instead of walking, they start smoking ... they start eating away from home," said Delgado. "Over time, these good health things get lost."
And not all Hispanics live according to the generalizations in the first place.
Elaine Hernandez of Los Angeles said her grandmother is 82.
"Her apple a day comes in a red and white can," Hernandez said.
The label? Budweiser.
At a senior citizens dance at an Los Angeles community center, Art Rosales said the secret of his 76 years is all about optimism.
"Learn one thing," he said. "Live life. Enjoy when you can. And your problems, don't carry them with you all the time."
And with that, he went back to his salsa dance.
ABC's Alice Maggin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.