IMMIGRANT HEALTH: Study Finds Initial Advantage Declines
A new study from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine found that despite lower incomes and levels of health insurance, first-generation immigrant children are healthier on average than their American peers. That advantage, however, disappears over time as successive generations see their levels of health decline. The Washington Post reports that experts "generally attributed the setbacks to a negative form of assimilation in which, over time, the children of immigrants often abandon the relatively healthy diets, discipline and protective structures that their families arrived with and end up adapting to the lifestyle of the poor American 'underclass.'" Ruben Rumbaut, a sociologist "whose work was cited in the study," said of the findings, "The McDonaldization of the world is not necessarily progress when it comes to nutritious diets."
Decline Over Time
According to the report, the relatively positive health status held by first-generation immigrant families applies across the board, from fewer short- and long-term health problems to higher birthweight babies to better mental health and fewer suicides. However, the healthy status often does not hold in subsequent generations, as immigrants "come to resemble the rest of the population," according to the University of Massachusetts' Dr. Evan Charney, chair of the committee that composed the report. He said, "The strong social and family support system they arrive with gets diluted over time" (Branigin, 9/10). Charney said, "By third and later generations, ... rates of adolescent risk-related behaviors such as violence, illegal drug use or unprotected sexual intercourse approach or exceed those of white adolescents with U.S. born parents" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 9/10).
More Study Needed
The report's authors, who received funding from "U.S. government agencies and private foundations" and worked under a congressional charter, urged further study to increase understanding of the "epidemiological paradox" found in the study (Washington Post, 9/10). "In many respects, our analyses point to what is not known rather than what is known" about the health of the nation's 14 million first- or second-generation immigrant children, said Charney (AP/Baltimore Sun, 9/10). Furthermore, in light of recent federal changes that restrict immigrants' access to food stamps and other assistance programs, he said "[w]e must be able to track how these important policy decisions affect children, so that we can make well-informed decisions in the future" ( Chicago Sun-Times, 9/10).
A Matter Of Perception?
Members of the research panel also raised concerns that "the report's data could have been skewed by the way it was gathered, to a great extent through interviews with parents, who arrived with one set of assumptions about health and gained new ones the longer they lived in the United States," NPR's Rachel Jones reported. A child that might be considered healthy in other countries is subsequently classified as ill by the higher standards of American medicine, thus accounting for both the higher initial reported health of immigrants and their subsequent decline. Experts urge more study to eliminate the potential distortion of parents' perceptions from the data ("Morning Edition", 9/10).
Important To Note
Despite the good health status of first-generation immigrant families, the researcher noted that "immigrants or the children of newcomers are three times as likely as the children of U.S.-born parents to lack health insurance," and "second-generation children are twice as likely to lack health coverage" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 9/10).