Many Hispanic Immigrants Adopt Unhealthy Lifestyles Upon Arrival to U.S.
The Washington Post on Tuesday examined how "emigrating from poor rural life in Central America to poor urban and suburban life" in the U.S. can cause immigrants to adopt new unhealthy eating habits that can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other ailments. Nationwide, obesity and diabetes rates among Hispanics are reaching record levels, according to CDC and other organizations. Hispanics also are nearly twice as likely to die from diabetes and have much higher rates of high blood pressure.
Lifestyle changes largely contribute to immigrants' increased health risks. For example, jobs such as construction and housekeeping produce "constant physical effort, but virtually no beneficial exercise," according to the Post. Diets also change from "cooking rice and beans, which lack many vitamins," to foods that "have too much fat," the Post reports.
According to health experts, different segments of the Hispanic population face different health lifestyle changes -- youth tend to become less active and play more video games and consume more fast food and soda; men, "far from family support networks and often sharing quarters with other men, tend to drink too much beer and high-sugar energy beverages"; and the women working long housekeeping hours have less time to cook healthy meals for their families, the Post reports. In addition, culture and misinformation from their native countries prevent Hispanics from following healthy lifestyles. For example, in Central America and Mexico it is believed that a healthy child should be "chubby," and a thin child is sick, according to the Post.
In response, several health agencies in Washington, D.C. -- where more than 500,000 Hispanics, including immigrants and their native-born children, live -- are reaching out to the community by offering health fairs, no-cost diagnostic tests, nutritional education, prenatal care, exercise classes and other programs. Elmer Huerta, a cancer expert at Washington Hospital Center who hosts a daily health advice show on Spanish radio, said, "In the first 10 years after immigrating, people gain an average of 12 pounds," adding, "They arrive blind to American culture and with little knowledge about health care. They work around the clock and neglect themselves. They live a sedentary life and eat food that is too rich. I tell them to go back to what they ate at home: rice and lentils and fruits. To recover what they have lost" (Constable, Washington Post, 8/5).