Immigrant Populations Growing — In More Ways Than One

America seems to be detrimental to the health of Hispanic immigrant populations — and the longer they are here the worse it is.

Photo by TheFoodJunk via Flickr

New data show that as they settle into American lifestyles, Hispanic immigrants are diagnosed with hypertension, diabetes and obesity at almost the same rate as those born in the U.S.  Hispanic immigrants who have been in the U.S. for 20 years or more are 98 percent more likely to become obese, 68 percent more likely to develop hypertension and about two and a half times more likely to become diabetic than those who have been in the U.S. for less than a decade.

Leslie Cofie, a first-year doctoral student at the University of North Carolina, and the lead researcher on this study, used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey — a group of national studies that combines interviews and physical exams to get the numbers on health outcomes. “A lot of the studies that have been done before on immigrants have been based on self-reported data sources,” Cofie said. But, he says, self-reported data is more error-prone since it is relying on a person’s recollection. The NHANES studies, however, provide a more comprehensive look since they use medical examination records collected by trained professionals.

At the annual American Public Health Association meeting Cofie discussed findings about Hispanic immigrants who have been in the U.S. up to 20 years and said those who were in the U.S. longer had a significantly higher percentage of hypertension, diabetes and obesity than the Hispanic immigrants who have been here for 10 or fewer years. Female Hispanic immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for 20 or more years are more prone to obesity and hypertension, while the male Hispanic immigrants living in the U.S. for 20 or more years are more prone to diabetes.

Cofie said that his analysis shows that variables such as access to health care, social economic status or even documentation have no real effect on the number of Hispanic immigrants diagnosed with these chronic conditions. “Even after we control for all those factors, we still see higher prevalence in poor health outcomes of these immigrants.”

Dr. Emilio Carrillo, the vice president of Community Health Development at New York-Presbyterian Hospital said this data is an unfortunate, but inherent part of the Hispanic immigrant experience in the U.S. “It’s well known that the first generation that came here had a healthier experience,” he said. “But then the next generation comes along and they tend to adapt to the American lifestyle …” which includes poor eating and exercise habits.

Jennifer Ng’andu, the deputy director of the Health Policy Project at the National Council of La Raza in Washington said Hispanic immigrants “are severely disconnected from the health care system.” Ng’andu adds that the more Hispanic immigrants are detached from the health care system, the more costly it will be to support their health care needs. “It’s going to cost us more to keep immigrants outside of the health care system.”