The purpose of this article was to characterize the origins of the United States Hispanic population and discuss the implications of these origins in the context of diabetes risk. Particular attention was focused on the genetic origins of the three major U.S. Hispanic groups, i.e., Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans. The U.S. Census figures provided basic demographic information. Genetic marker data for ancestral populations were taken from a review of the literature and compendia. Genetic marker data for the Puerto Rican and Cuban populations were extracted from the literature. Genetic markers determined on ∼ 1000 randomly selected Mexican Americans from Starr County, Texas, were taken as representative of the Mexican-American population. The Hispanic population is the second largest and fastest growing minority in the U.S. Estimates of the Hispanic population in 1988 indicated some 19.4 million residents, of whom 62% were classified as Mexican, 13% as Puerto Rican, and the remaining 25% as Cubans and others. Various lines of evidence can be used to characterize the Hispanic population and its origins. These include ethnohistory, self-assessment of ancestry, surname distributions, speech and cultural characteristics, quantitative traits, and genetic structure. Genetic data were used to estimate the contribution of putative ancestral populations to the contemporary gene pool. For Mexican Americans, 31% of the contemporary gene pool is estimated to be Native American derived, whereas 61 and 8% are Spanish and African derived, respectively. In Puerto Rico, the percentage of contributions of Spanish, Native American, and African admixture to the population are 45, 18, and 37%, respectively. For Cuba, the parallel estimates are 62, 18, and 20%. The high frequency of Native American-derived genes in the contemporary Hispanic population predict a higher frequency of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) under the assumption that genes are important in NIDDM etiology. Our results are consistent with the finding of the significant role of genes in determining risk.

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