This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Americanization is Bad for Your Health, Part II

Not long ago, I discussed an article in the Chronicle of Social Change featuring my colleague, RubĂ©n Rumbaut, on the topic of Americanization being bad for your health. A couple of days ago, a now widely circulated article appeared in the New York Times under the title "The Health Toll of Immigration." The author talked to a lot of people who have done research in this area (albeit for some reason not Professor Rumbaut). As I mentioned earlier, the idea that American is not good for you is really not a new topic, but presumably these things resurface as the immigration bill gets closer to being passed. 

While the story makes some good points, the author does venture into space in the final paragraphs:
In the De Angeles [Brownsville, Texas] snack bar, a favorite meeting place for elderly Brownsvillians, one regular who is 101 still walks across the bridge to Mexico. Maria De La Cruz, a 73-year-old who immigrated to the United States in her 40s, says her secret is raw garlic, cooked cactus and exercise, all habits she acquired from her father, a tailor who died at 98.
“He had very pretty legs, like mine,” she said, laughing. “You want to see them?”
These stories of people living to old age because of one strange habit or another is largely the stuff of urban (or more accurately, rural) legend, but there is the implication in this article that life expectancy is higher in Mexico than in the US and that the health of immigrants is threatened by coming to the US. Indeed, at one point, the comment is made that:
And health habits in Mexico are starting to look a lot like those in the United States. Researchers are beginning to wonder how long better numbers for the foreign-born will last. Up to 40 percent of the diet of rural Mexicans now comes from packaged foods, according to Professor Valdez [Robert O. Valdez, a professor of family and community medicine and economics at the University of New Mexico].
This is happening in many countries, not just Mexico, of course and it is, to be sure, a global concern. However, life expectancy is not now, nor has it ever been, higher in Mexico than in the US. To be sure, the gap is narrowing. Fifty years, life expectancy for women in Mexico was 61 years, compared to 74 for US women. Now, the life expectancy for Mexican women is 79. whereas it is 81 for US women. Much, if not most, of that difference is explained by the improving health of children in Mexico.

Overall, then, immigrants bring better diets, less smoking, less use of drugs, and a package of cultural protections (especially the family) that combine to translate into lower death rates in the US than if they had stayed home in Mexico. It is the second generation that slips away from those patterns of the immigrants. Thus, the health toll is really not on the immigrants, but on their children and grandchildren.

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