NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 21, 2004

Bad news for new Americans: A study published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that simply moving to the United States packs on the pounds.

  • The study found that living in the United States for more than 15 years was associated with a 1.39 increase in body mass index, a scientific measure for weight.
  • This increase in weight for a woman of average height -- 5 feet, 4 inches -- translates to 9 pounds.
  • For a man of average height -- 5 feet, 9 inches -- that's 11 more pounds.

At least three previous studies have found similar increases by comparing immigrants with their children born in the United States. But this is the first study that examines the weight gain among immigrants over an extended period of time.

This is a new facet of the nation's obesity problem. Government data show that about 65 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese. Experts fear an explosion of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other illnesses associated with obesity.

In general, immigrants are healthier than native-born Americans, says Mita Sanghavi Goel, a doctor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. "They have lower rates of heart disease and overall lower rates of diabetes."

The good news is that one way to protect immigrants from calorie creep is simply to encourage them to maintain their traditional diets, says Goel.

Source: Elizabeth Weise, "Another Way U.S. Immigrants Are Assimilated: Weight Gain," USA Today, December, 15, 2004.

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