Studying the Health of Mexican Immigrants in the United States

Dates of Project: July 2005 to June 2007

Field of Work: Health status of Mexican American immigrants

The health of second-generation Mexican Americans in the United States is not uniformly worse than that of their parents.

Issue: Despite their low socioeconomic status, Mexican Americans tend to be healthier than non-Hispanic Whites. At the same time, many studies suggest that first-generation Mexican American immigrants have better health than children of immigrants. Understanding the factors that influence immigrant health has important policy implications.

Project Synopsis: José Escarce, MD, PhD, and Leo S. Morales, MD, PhD, MPH, and colleagues wrote five journal articles on the health status of Mexican Americans and their access to health care under an RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research. Escarce and Morales are professors of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Key Findings

Among the findings of Escarce, Morales and colleagues under the Investigator Award:

  • The children of immigrants do worse than their parents on some cardiovascular risk factors (such as hypertension) but better on others (such as cholesterol levels among women and smoking).
  • No clear evidence supports the "salmon-bias" hypothesis, which posits that Mexicans in the United States return to Mexico due to poor health, as an explanation for the Hispanic health paradox in which Hispanics in the United States are healthier than might be expected from their socioeconomic status.
  •  Many immigrants face financial and nonfinancial barriers to receiving adequate health care, which could contribute to deteriorating health over time.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the cost of immigrants’ health care is very low compared with that of the U.S.-born population.
  • Mexican Americans and Blacks have a higher risk of developing chronic liver disease than their White counterparts.

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Hispanic paradox: Mexican immigrants are generally healthier than non-Hispanic Whites. No one is sure why.