How the Complexities Behind Infertility Affect Latinas

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Infertility is a complex topic that impacts millions of women and couples across the globe. Although it is often not talked about and elicits shame from so many women, it’s far more common than you might realize, with an estimated 6 percent of married women unable to get pregnant after one year of trying, according to the CDC. 

This is a prevalent issue for Latinas as well. 

Recent data indicates that the Hispanic birth rate has plummeted in recent years, and the decline in Hispanic fertility rates has contributed significantly to the overall decline in the U.S. fertility rate. 

There’s a lot to unpack here — why are fertility rates declining for women? Why are those numbers higher for Latinas? What is contributing to infertility among Latinas in the U.S.? There are many unknowns, but one potential answer comes from a 2019 study, which found that women who eat a lot of fast food are more likely to struggle to become pregnant.

The study, which was published in the journal Human Reproduction, found that “women who eat a lot of fast food may take longer to become pregnant and be more likely to experience infertility than their counterparts who rarely if ever eat these types of meals,” as reported in Reuters. 

This alarming data is certainly a warning for Latinas because not only are birth rates declining for the Hispanic community, but research shows that minorities, especially Latinas are half as likely to seek fertility treatments to help their chances of becoming pregnant. According to data collected by the National Survey of Family Growth, “15 percent of non-Hispanic white women used medical help to get pregnant, while only 8 percent of (non-Hispanic) Black women and 7.6 percent of Hispanic women reported the same” between 2006 and 2010. “You cannot downplay the fairly substantial evidence that suggests minorities have it worse than their white counterparts,” argues Will Kiltz, the communications director at CNY Fertility, a clinic in Syracuse, New York.

The 2018 study on the link between fast food intake and infertility found that of the 5,598 respondents in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, women who ate fast food at least four times a week had double the risk of infertility compared to women who rarely or never ate fast food – the risk was 16 percent for heavy fast food consumption and only 8 percent for those who did not consume fast food.

Similarly, some of the largest declines have been among Latinas. The Latina fertility rate fell from 98.3 percent in 2006 to 65.3 percent in 2019, a drastic drop of 33 percent in just 13 years. 

The decline is far less severe for other ethnicities. Between 2006 and 2017, the decline for white women was only 5 percent, and for Black women, only 11 percent. 

Yes, there is a lot that could contribute to this sharp decline. Demographers believe this statistical shift could be due to the generational differences between Hispanic immigrants and today’s generation of American-born women. But researchers are considering that there could also be other elements at play.

So, why exactly is it that fast food seems to be linked to infertility? Lead study author Jessica Grieger of the Robinson Research Institute and the University of Adelaide in Australia believes it has to do with the high amounts of saturated fat, sodium, and even sugar. “Although these dietary components and their relationship to fertility has not been specifically studied in human pregnancies, higher amounts of saturated fatty acids were identified in oocytes (an egg cell in the ovary) of women undergoing assisted reproduction and studies in mice have demonstrated that a high-fat diet had a toxic effect on the ovaries,” she told Reuters via email. “We believe that fast food may be one factor mediating infertility through altered ovarian function.”

It’s important to say that this was not a perfect study with no clear link between fast food intake and infertility. It was not a controlled experiment, and participants had to self-report their dietary habits, a method of gathering data that is far from flawless and at times unreliable. 

In addition, the study was not investigating the impact on Latina fertility, specifically. That said, there is some cause for concern, especially for Latinas who consume a great deal of fast food and are already experiencing declining birth rates in recent years. If you are a woman of child-bearing age and considering starting a family, this new information and the potential link between fast food and infertility is definitely something you should pay attention to.