Health disparities between the United States mainland and Puerto Rico, Guam, and the United States Virgin Islands (United States territories)

Dena Shugart, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Health disparities have been documented for the United States mainland. No literature was found comparing the mainland population to that of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the United States Virgin Islands (United States territories). Using Healthy Lifestyle Characteristics of non-smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, consuming fruits/vegetables daily, and exercising regularly, the health of the mainland was compared to United States territories. The research questions were: (1) Among the characteristics, what are similarities/differences between citizens of the mainland United States and territories?, (2) Among the characteristics, what are similarities/differences in how the territories compare to each other?, (3) Does the mainland and the territories meet Healthy People 2010 goals for these characteristics?, (4) Are perceptions of health concordant or discordant with the characteristics for mainlanders and Puerto Ricans? Using 2007 data from Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), frequency distributions were compared for the Healthy Lifestyle Characteristics for the mainland territories. Research found smoking rates on Guam were statistically greater than the mainland, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands. Healthy body mass index levels and physical activity rates were better on Guam compared to other locations. Puerto Rico had significantly more overweight and obese persons, lower fruit/vegetable consumption rates, and lower physical activity rates than the mainland, Guam and the Virgin Islands. Research found mainlanders reported statistically greater participation in regular physical activity than did Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders; there were significant differences in fruit/vegetable consumption rates compared to both. The research found no locations met all four of Healthy People 2010 goals. Compared to mainlanders, research showed Puerto Ricans perceive their health significantly worse. A better understanding is needed for how United States citizens (mainlanders and territory residents) view participation in healthy behaviors and how health is affected by participating or not in healthy behaviors. For the year examined, Healthy People 2010 goals were not achieved. This study demonstrates Puerto Ricans’ health, using the four characteristics, is significantly worse than residents in the other locations. Public health programs targeting Puerto Ricans are warranted. Finally, this study highlights the need for continued research on the relationships among the mainland and territories.

Subject Area

Public health|Behavioral Sciences

Recommended Citation

Shugart, Dena, "Health disparities between the United States mainland and Puerto Rico, Guam, and the United States Virgin Islands (United States territories)" (2010). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1475368.