Physical and mental health characteristics of U.S.- and foreign-born adults: United States, 1998-2003

Achintya N Dey, Jacqueline Wilson Lucas
Advance Data 2006 March 1, (369): 1-19

OBJECTIVE: This report presents national prevalence estimates of selected measures of physical health status and limitations, health care access and utilization, and mental health status among the civilian noninstitutionalized population of U.S.- and foreign-born adults aged 18 years and over in four race-ethnicity groups in the United States.

METHODS: The estimates in this report were derived from the Family Core and Sample Adult components of the 1998-2003 National Health Interview Surveys, conducted annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Estimates were generated and comparisons conducted using the SUDAAN statistical package to account for the complex survey sample design. Data were age adjusted to the 2000 U.S. standard population.

RESULTS: In general, the foreign-born population was younger, less likely to have a high school diploma, more likely to be poor, heavily concentrated in the central cities of metropolitan areas, and more likely to live in large families, compared with their U.S.-born counterparts. Hispanic immigrants were the least likely to have health insurance or to have a usual source of health care compared with other immigrant groups. Non-Hispanic black and Hispanic adults, regardless of nativity, were more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic Asian adults. However, non-Hispanic black and Hispanic immigrant adults were significantly less likely to be obese than their U.S.-born counterparts. Hispanic immigrants were more likely to be obese the longer they lived in the United States. Foreign-born nonHispanic black and Hispanic immigrant adults experienced fewer symptoms of serious psychological distress compared with their U.S.-born counterparts.

CONCLUSIONS: There are significant differences in physical health status and mental health status among U.S.-born and foreign-born adults. Foreign-born adults enjoy considerable advantages over their U.S.-born counterparts for many health measures despite limited access to health care and unfavorable sociodemographic characteristics. Differences in the impact of length of stay in the United States on immigrant health suggest that the role of acculturation in understanding immigrant health is complex and may differ for various race/ethnicity groups.

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