Studies find health risk decline among immigrants

An increasing number of studies say that the health of Caribbean and other immigrants declines with longer years in the United States.

The studies point out that the longer Caribbean nationals live in the U.S., the worse their rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and mental illness, among others, decline.

“Empirical evidence suggests that Caribbean Immigrants tend to have better health outcomes when they arrive in the U.S.A., and this tend to diminish the longer they live in the U.S.A.,” Dr. Janice Emanuel-Bunn, a Guyanese-born professor at the University of Phoenix, AZ told Caribbean Life.

Dr. Emanuel-Bunn, also who heads the Brooklyn-based Action, Performance, Commitment (APC) Community Services, said her group has been pushing Caribbean immigrants to take care of their health in light of studies that point to deteriorating health the longer they remain in the U.S.

“I am convinced that Caribbean immigrants can experience greater health outcomes by eating healthy, maintaining regular exercise, reducing stress and having a positive outlook on life,” she said, noting that APC Community Services has been holding annual symposia, health fairs and clinics, in collaboration with a number of health care institutions in Brooklyn, in addressing Caribbean health concerns.

Dr. Carla Boutin-Foster, a Haitian-born Associate Professor of Medicine in New York City, also said prospective studies of immigrants “demonstrate a decline in the health status with longer duration of residency in the U.S.

“Studies show that Caribbean blacks are less likely to rate their health as fair or poor than US born blacks,” she said. “However, this changes greater than four years in the U.S.”

Dr. Boutin-Foster attributed the decline to, among other things, the adoption of a “sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diets, loss of major sources of social support, and greater stress to acculturate with fewer resources.”

She said Caribbean-born residents are among the least likely to have access to care and to be uninsured, stating that, on average, 30 percent of foreign-born residents have Medicaid – a federal health program for families and individuals with low income and resources – compared to only 11 percent of immigrants.

“More recently, empirical studies have shown that at least some immigrant groups may experience better mental health than U.S.-born individuals,” according to the American Journal of Public Health.

“As they participate actively in American life, immigrants become more similar to U.S.-born individuals in their mental health status. That is, for some immigrant groups, their mental health becomes worse as they become more integrated with American culture, values, and lifestyles,” it adds in a recent publication.

“We have a time bomb that’s going to go off,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

“Obesity rates are increasing,” she added.”Diabetes is exploding.”

Still, some studies say that Caribbean and other immigrants, on a whole, have better health outcomes than the American-born.

Gopal Singh, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Robert A. Hiatt, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, found that immigrants had at least a 20 percent lower overall cancer mortality rate than their American-born counterparts.

Mortality rates from heart disease were about 16 percent lower, for kidney disease 18 percent lower, and for liver cirrhosis 24 percent lower, Singh and Hiatt found.

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