The Health Toll of Immigration

The newspaper presents great articles that can be read in class. However, often times, these articles are too challenging for our students. The article below is a great adaptation created by one of our teachers. You’ll find questions to round out the lesson at the end of the text.


The Health Toll of Immigration

 Adapted from an article by Sabrina Tavernise in the New York Times, May 19, 2013

 Adopting U.S. Behaviors Increases Risks

Becoming an American can be bad for your health.  A growing body of mortality research on immigrants has shown that the longer they live in this country, the worse their rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. The pattern goes against any notion that moving to America improves every aspect of life. For Hispanics, now the nation’s largest immigrant group, the foreign-born live about three years longer than people their age born in the U.S.

New research is showing that the immigrant advantage wears off with the adoption of American behaviors—smoking, drinking, high-calorie diets and sedentary lifestyles.  Immigrants say that happens slowly, almost imperceptibly.  For the recently arrived, the quantity and accessibility of food speaks to the boundless promise of the United States.  Fast food not only tasted good, it is also a sign of success and the supersized-deals make it all the more appealing.  Then too, it is convenient for working parents who soon lose control over their children’s diets because they all eat out so often.

Robert O. Valdez, a professor of family and community medicine and economics at the University of New Mexico, said, “All the things we tell people to do from a clinical perspective today—a lot of fiber and less meat—were exactly the lifestyle habits that immigrants were normally keeping before they moved here.”  Other researchers say culture contributes.  Foreign-born Hispanics are less likely than American-born Hispanics to be raising children alone, and more likely to be part of large kinship networks that protect them from harsh economic realities that can lead to poor health.  The problem is 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.

And health habits in Mexico are starting to look a lot like those in the United States. People are no longer growing what they are eating.  They are increasingly going to the market, and that market is changing.  Some say “The U.S. culture has crept across the border.”

Perhaps more immediate is the declining state of Hispanic health in the United States. Nearly twice as many Hispanic adults as non-Hispanic adults have diabetes that has been diagnosed.  Genetic factors may play a role.  Obesity rates are also exploding.  But at the same time, as the descendants of immigrants improve their economic status, their health improves as well.

This is a complex picture and reminds us to understand better the actions we can take to maintain and improve our health whether we live in Mexico or the United States!


Questions on New York Times Article

 Read the article through, circle and look up any words you don’t understand.  If you still don’t understand the sentence, mark it and we’ll discuss it in class.

1. What is the title of the article? Who is the author?

2. When and where was it published?

3. Underline the topic sentence in each paragraph on your copy.

4. Summarize the article in 3-4 sentences in your own words.

5. What is the most important message from the article for you?

6. What ideas do you agree with in the article?

7.    What ideas do you disagree with? Why?

8.    What are some healthy habits from your culture that you can maintain?

9.    What are some things you can do to improve your health here more easily than you could do in your home country?