U.S. lifestyle of high-calorie diet and sedentary lifestyle means immigrant health declines when they move to the U.S.

Most immigrants to the U.S. are moving from a country with lower socioeconomic status and a richer country with far better healthcare and nutrition options.

So why does the health of immigrants decline as they adopt a American lifestyle?  Why do immigrants have higher rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes the longer they live in this country?

Researchers have been teasing out the reasons--and they are not very surprising, according to this New York Times article

The pattern goes against any notion that moving to America improves every aspect of life. It also demonstrates that at least in terms of health, worries about assimilation for the country’s 11 million illegal immigrants are mistaken. In fact, it is happening all too quickly.

“There’s something about life in the United States that is not conducive to good health across generations,” said Robert A. Hummer, a social demographer at the University of Texas at Austin.

For Hispanics, now the nation’s largest immigrant group, the foreign-born live about three years longer than their American-born counterparts, several studies have found.

Why does life in the United States — despite its sophisticated health care system and high per capita wages — lead to worse health? New research is showing that the immigrant advantage wears off with the adoption of American behaviors — smoking, drinking, high-calorie diets and sedentary lifestyles. . . .

The numbers are made worse by a lack of physical activity, including walking. Immigrants said they felt so conspicuous during early attempts to walk along the shoulder of the roads that they feared people would suspect they were here illegally. Ms. Angeles recalled that strolling to a dollar store provoked so many stares that she felt like “a bean in rice.” . . . 

“When my daughter was born, my doctor told me that if I wanted to see her 15th birthday I needed to lose the weight,” said Gerry Ortiz, 37, a first-generation Mexican-American in Brownsville. He managed to lose 75 pounds, motivated in part by his grandfather, a farmer in rural Mexico who at 93 still rides his bicycle every day. He stares down at the family from a black-and-white photograph hanging in Mr. Ortiz’s living room. Four of the family’s six siblings are obese and have diabetes.

The research tells a story we're very familiar with in Missouri--where nearly 50% of citizens live in a neighborhood with no sidewalks at all and over 75% live in a community with no bikeways or bicycle facilities at all.

With so little attention paid to the health and livability of the communities we live in, the toll it takes on our health is not very surprising.

One reason MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri puts so much emphasis on creating a world-class bicycle and pedestrian network in Missouri is that we know that will improve our citizens' fitness and health more than just about anything else we could do in Missouri. Creating a world-class bicycling and walking network would not only make us healthier and happier, but will save us billions of dollars annuall in unnecessary medical costs.


Photo credit: Different Walk of LIfe by colodio on FlickRCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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