October 13, 2005

Coming to US bad for Mexicans’ health, study shows

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Coming to the United States can be
bad for your health if you are a Mexican immigrant, according
to a study released on Thursday.

The joint Mexican-U.S. report found that most Mexican
immigrants arrive in the United States in better health than
the white American population but their health deteriorates the
longer they stay, due partly to lack of insurance and the
change in lifestyle.

"It is unknown ... if worsening health status is a result
of years of difficult labor and poverty, changing health
behaviors like diet and smoking, or insufficient preventive
medical care," the report said.

Contrary to the widespread belief that immigrants place an
undue burden on U.S. hospital emergency rooms, the study found
that only 10 percent of recent immigrants from Mexico use
emergency rooms, compared to 20 percent of U.S.-born whites.

The study, carried out by the University of California and
the Mexican government's National Population Council, is aimed
at improving the health of migrants living in the United

Mexico is the largest contemporary source of immigration to
the United States. Mexicans -- many of them undocumented --
make up almost 4 percent of the total U.S. population.

Researchers found that 6.8 percent of recent adult Mexican
immigrants assessed their own health as fair or poor compared
to 10.6 percent of U.S. born whites, and just 2.6 percent have
diabetes. After 15 years in the United States, 15 percent of
Mexicans said their health was fair or poor and 7.7 percent had
been diagnosed with diabetes.

More than half of the 10.2 million Mexican immigrants
living in the United States do not have health insurance and
lack of documents due to an uncertain legal status means they
are often ineligible for public health insurance.

In their homeland, most formally employed Mexicans have
basic public health coverage but millions in the countryside or
in informal jobs are not covered.

Elena Zuniga, one of the authors of the report who works
for Mexico's National Population Council, said that good health
among immigrant workers had benefits for both Mexico and the
United States.

"Without good health, Mexican immigrants cannot work in the
physically demanding occupations where many are concentrated
such as agriculture and construction," she said.