Many immigrants to the United States soon get fat, joining an increasingly obese population in their adopted country, researchers said on Tuesday.
The newcomers probably take up the “increased sedentary behavior and poor dietary patterns” they encounter, including the high-calorie foods and labor-saving technologies that mark the U.S. lifestyle, said the report from Northwestern University in Chicago. The problem is worrisome “given the rapid growth of the immigrant population and the adverse health care consequences associated with obesity,” added the study published in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association. “Unfortunately our findings also suggest that clinicians may be paying less attention to diet and exercise among some immigrant groups,” the report said. Immigrants comprise about 11 percent of the U.S. population, the fastest growing segment, and often come from countries where the level of obesity is lower, the study said. But 10 years after arriving they have gained weight and at 15 years of residence their obesity rates rival those of the native-born, it said. The researchers looked at health statistics compiled by U.S. Census workers on more than 32,000 people, of whom 14 percent were immigrants. They found that 8 percent of immigrants who had lived in the United States for less than a year were obese, but the level rose to 19 percent among those who were in the country for more than 15 years. For non-immigrants in the general population, the obesity rate was 22 percent. The weight gain was associated with all immigrant groups, including whites, Latinos and Asians, but not foreign-born blacks, the report said, and was “in addition to any weight gained due to aging or other factors.” The study also found that immigrants were less likely than native-born individuals to discuss diet and exercise with their doctors. “Immigrants appear to assume a similarly high prevalence of obesity as U.S.-born adults with longer duration of residence,” the study concluded. “With the growing immigrant population in the United States, early clinician intervention on diet and physical activity may represent an important opportunity to prevent weight gain, obesity, and obesity-related chronic illnesses.” (Source: Reuters Health, Northwestern University, Chicago, December 2004)